Ari answers a question about mushroom cultivation.

Over 35 high school students gathered outside Cornell University’s Plant Science building on a sunny late June morning for “Mushroom Cultivation for Fun and Profit,” a workshop I co-led at the 2011 Youth Grow Summit with Steve Gabriel – a Cornell Garden-Based Learning co-worker and Program Director for the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute.

Youth Grow empowers high school-aged youth to become leaders in cultivating sustainable food systems, and the Summit brings youth from rural and urban areas throughout New York together for three days of educational workshops, networking, and knowledge sharing.

The Youth Grow Summit was an inspiring event, as the participants had a genuine passion for making the world a better place by improving our food systems. I was happy to see that there was such wide interest in mushroom cultivation among the youth – several told me the day before how excited they were, and the event coordinators ultimately had to put a cap on the workshop enrollment.

Steve Gabriel and Ari Rockland-Miller presenting at the 2011 Cornell Youth Grow Summit.

Even more importantly, the participants were engaged and excited about learning. They asked thoughtful questions as Steve and I demonstrated techniques for cultivating shiitake, oyster, and king stropharia mushrooms. Conveniently, one of my favorite wild king stropharia patches was within a stone’s throw of the workshop location. I don’t usually give away my mushroom spots, but this one was well worth it for the educational value!

Once we tuned into the natural world beneath our feet, other surprises awaited us, too! When I picked up an earthworm that was wriggling amongst the woodchips, a few students screamed in repulsion. One young woman, however, was more intrigued than repulsed. She reached out to hold the worm, and once she grabbed it an onlooker became eager to join the fun. I pushed aside the top layer of woodchips and found a nice plump one for her. It was all worth it for the huge smile on her face as she marveled at the worm’s slippery texture as it squirmed around in her palm!

Steve Gabriel explains how to grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds.

A workshop participant from Brooklyn holds an earthworm.