Science, business merge in the business of mushrooms
Tradd Cotter has turned what he calls the “creepy and cool” world of mushrooms into a science and a business.
“Most people look at mushrooms in their yard and want to know if (mushrooms) will hurt them or hurt their dog,” says the founder of Mushroom Mountain near Greenville, S.C. “They don't know the nutritional, compost or medicinal values.”
He will be bringing his knowledge for a second visit to the Mother Earth News Fair Sept. 15 to 17 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County.
It will be the eighth annual fair at Seven Springs put together by the 40-year-old magazine that promotes self-reliant, sustainable lifestyles.
The three-day fair features dozens of hands-on demonstrations and workshops on topics such as renewable energy, small-scale agriculture, gardening and green construction.
Talks also will include looks at beekeeping and raising rabbits for fun and profit.
In addition, there will be livestock and gardening demonstrations, and vendors of seeds, tools, books and clothes.
Betsy Conn, conference services manager for the resort, says 15,000 visitors are expected in the three days.
It also will feature Cotter leading an early-morning mushroom walk through the grounds of the resort, which he says is at the “apex of mushrooms on the East Coast” because of rainfall, temperature and altitude.
Cotter says the location provides a wonderful place to gather a variety of mushroom samples that allow him to discuss their diversity.
“They are a key element to fungal ecology,” he says.
The mushroom walk began after he made a casual mention during his appearance at Seven Springs two years ago, he says. He was shocked when a handful of people showed up a little before 7 the next morning — and even more surprised when there were about 150 by 7:05.
“They came walking out of the fog that morning,” he adds with a laugh. “They could have been something from a zombie movie.”
Cotter developed an interest in mushrooms as a teenager and was “working as a landscaper to pay the bills” when he got a grant to Clemson University.
After studying mycology there, he organized Mushroom Mountain in 1995-96 to work on all of the aspects involved with the fungi.
Mushroom Mountain, in a part of South Carolina similar to the terrain of Seven Springs, does research on all of the roles of the mushroom. It also markets spawns to farms and residents who want to take advantage of those possibilities.
The company began in the apartment of Cotter and his wife, Olga, but expanded in 2005 when they found a property with 42,000 square feet of research and storage space on its 26 acres.
Space is definitely required to study the wide world of mushrooms.
“There are more than 3,000 mushroom species out there,” he says. “Of that, there are only 50 that are dangerous. That is way less than 1 percent. You can probably eat most of them. Some might not taste good, but they won't hurt you.”
Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.