Mushroom project teaches warm, sticky lesson in climate change

What happens when a rag tag group of interdisciplinary professionals gets their hands on a grant aimed at conservation and sustainability?

Fungus happens. Well, mushrooms to be exact.

That's the idea behind the Mushroom Farm, a fully-functioning urban agriculture installation - part art, part science - launched Tuesday in Pioneer Square. Open until March 9, the Mushroom Farm invites visitors to learn about the impacts of their food choices and sustainability. It's also meant to serve as a gathering place for the community, and serve as a model for future urban agriculture practice, said CityLab7 member Chris Saleeba.

"The purpose is to begin really thinking about the everyday impact of food choice people make," he said. The project, which occupies a vacant storefront on Occidental Street, is the brainchild of CityLab7 - those rag tag professionals mentioned before.

"Essentially the Mushroom Farm is a nice example of how we can look at behavior choices and food choices, and its impact on climate change," Saleeba said.

The idea for the installation actually began about three years ago. CityLab7 applied for and secured a grant through the Invoking the Pause environmental grant program. The grant aims to assist recipients in creating projects that increase public awareness regarding climate change. In January, CityLab7 launched the farm with help from Olson Kundig Architects and Schuchart/Dow in an empty storefront in Pioneer Square.

The farm officially opened on Tuesday, and since then has hosted a slew of visitors. People can take a peek at the growing mushrooms inside the installation's small, humid greenhouse, or eat lunch and mingle at the long, family-style table with seating for about a dozen people. The space hosts community lunch sessions Tuesday- Friday from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

Visitors can also participate by purchasing a cup of coffee. The Mushroom Farm structure, also known as the "Mother Ship", is fueled with grounds gathered from three nearby cafes - Zeitgeist, Caffe Umbria and Starbucks. Saleeba said in just a few weeks, they've managed to collect more than a cubic yard of coffee grounds for the farm. That's almost enough to fill the back of a standard pickup truck.

"It really shows how quickly the waste adds up," he said.

The most important component of this project is its social impacts and how it helps connect the neighborhood, Saleeba said.

"The social connection is just as important," he said. "We're inviting people to come and learn about the farm and how to put something abundant to work. I hope (the farm) encourages people to stop and think about their food choices and how waste can be utilized in different ways."

Public events:

Feb.20-March 8 - Community Lunch Room
Bring your lunch, watch mushrooms grow, and share conversation with others who live and work in the neighborhood. Docents will be available to answer questions about the project. Tuesdays-Fridays. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

March 1 - Mushroom Harvest and Meet-the-Farmer Event.
Help us harvest gourmet oyster mushrooms and learn about growing mushrooms in coffee waste with Alex Winstead of Cascadia Mushrooms. 5 -9 p.m.

March 8 - Second Harvest and Donation to Local Food Bank.
Help us harvest gourmet oyster mushrooms that will be donated to local families in need of food. 5-7 p.m.

Participating cafes:

Zeitgeist Coffee (171 South Jackson Street), Caffe Umbria (320 Occidental Avenue South), and Starbucks (400 Occidental Avenue).

Patrons who purchase coffee from the participating cafes from Feb. 21 to March 1 and tweet the results will be entered to win tickets to the installation's culminating event: a Harvest Celebration Dinner headlined by MacArthur Genius Gary Nabhan and Viva Farms Director, Sarita Schaffer.