Community Power! Elect Hugo Soto-Martinez!

I live in the most corrupt city in the United States, Los Angeles. A quarter of our city council is either in prison or under investigation. The way you get elected to the city council here is to take money from developers and real estate financiers. Once you get in office you serve those interests. Between elections you fix the occasional pothole and show up for photo ops when there’s a new star on the Walk of Fame. Meanwhile, income inequality, unafordable housing, homelessness, and traffic deaths have increased.

Nobody epitomizes this status quo and lack of vision more than my city current councilman Mitch O’Farrell. In the nine years he’s sat on the city council he’s failed to advocate for housing and services for the homeless and instead has pursued a discredited policy of criminalizing poverty. Instead of pushing for safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists he’s failed to implement even modest improvements and, as a result, our streets are grim, high speed traffic sewers. He and his staff fill their hours by serving the interests of a parasitic class of real estate investors, bloated non-profits and lobbyists who are his patrons.

Thankfully we have a chance to change things for the better by electing Hugo Soto-Martinez for council district 13. Hugo is the son of street vendors and has spent the last fifteen years as an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 11, a union of hotel, warehouse and food service workers. Once elected Hugo will represent the interests of ordinary working people. He supports building social housing, jobs programs and making our streets safer for everyone. You can read more about his platform on his website.

Electing Hugo is just the beginning. There’s a lot of work to do to turn this city around. Thankfully, more people are starting to pay attention to local elections. You can help out by going to my fundraising page for Hugo and chipping in a few dollars.

Wherever you are you can be a part of change at the local level. I believe that Hugo is a great model for community power. Let’s take Los Angeles back by electing Hugo in June!

A Low-Tech Experiment in Growing Oyster Mushrooms

My furniture making hobby produces a mountain of sawdust and wood chips. Some of it I give to neighbors who have cabins with composting toilets. A lot of it I have to throw out.

A few months ago a light bulb went off. I mostly produce oak sawdust which just happens to be one of the ideal substrates for growing mushrooms. While I love looking at mushrooms and attending lectures about mushrooms via the Los Angeles Mycological Society, I don’t know anything about growing them and my two previous attempts were complete failures.

Techniques for growing mushroom range from simple to extremely high tech. For this experiment I wanted to try the simplest method I could find that would not require buying equipment, plastic bags or maintaining a temperature and humidity controlled indoor environment. Put simply, I wanted to try growing mushrooms outdoors on oak sawdust in Southern California, a region not known for growing mushrooms.

I asked a few friends who know much more about growing mushrooms than I do. They all suggested trying oyster mushrooms since this species easily out-competes molds and other organisms that try to colonize the substrate.

I ordered a four pound bag of blue oyster grain spawn from North Spore. Following the instructions on Fresh Cap Mushroom’s YouTube channel, I poked 1/4 inch holes in the sides of a five gallon bucket and 1/8 inch holes in the bottom to drain excess water. The white oak I used mostly came out my planer and jointer, both of which produce thin chips of wood that get sucked up by my dust collector.

On January 4th, I put the chips in a plastic bin and soaked them in boiling water to pasteurize them and give the oyster mushroom spawn a better chance of growing. I let the wood chips soak overnight. The next day I squeezed excess water out of the chips and put them in my holey (holy?) bucket, alternating layers of wood chips and spawn. I placed the bucket outside under the dense shade of our avocado tree. You can also, by the way, use straw instead of wood chips.

By January 18th the oyster mushrooms were “pinning,” that is, beginning to fruit out of the 1/4 inch holes. On January 27th, I harvested my first cluster of mushrooms. I can report that blue oyster mushrooms are delicious, with a concentrated umami/super-mushroomy flavor.

One curious thing: the mushrooms I harvested look more like the Italian Oyster mushrooms that North Spore sells, so I wonder if a mix-up happened. I’ve written North Spore for a clarification. [Editors note: North Spore got back to me and they say that these are blue oyster and the the Italian oyster has a wavier cap.]

This was my third and only successful attempt at growing mushrooms. The spawn cost $28 and I’ve harvested about 2 pounds of mushrooms so I can’t call this experiment a financial success just yet, though it looks like I might get a second flush out of the bucket. Financial considerations aside, the mushrooms were so delicious that I am definitely going to try this experiment again. Towards that end I’m taking a class this month with mushroom expert Peter McCoy.

Working backwards to the more involved processes of growing your own spawn and developing your own strains is, I’m guessing, the best way to make this more sustainable. I may try growing some pink oyster mushrooms, though I’ve heard mixed reports about flavor. McCoy is sending us home with kits so I’ll report back on how those grow.