Rhyze Up: Edinburgh’s radical mushroom farmers

We speak to Rhyze about growing fungi, empowering their community through food and the radical potential of the humble mushroom

Article by Katie Goh | 12 Oct 2021
  • Rhyze

Mushrooms are having a bit of a moment. Recent books like Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life and Netflix’s documentary Fantastic Fungi, as well as many, many TikTok videos, are exposing people to the fascinating world of fungi, from how they connect the forest floor through underground mycelium networks, to their incredible ability to grow from and on just about anything. It’s this latter, adaptable quality in particular that attracted a group of mushroom fans to band together as Rhyze, a radical, mushroom growing collective based in Edinburgh.

“A group of us got together during the pandemic, keen to start a project around food and community education, something that would empower people to lead more sustainable lives and feed themselves and their communities,” explains Marco Tenconi, Rhyze’s Cultivation Coordinator. “We wanted a project that would work around our urban lives and the physical constraints of being in the city, and mushroom farming is just perfect for that. You can grow a lot of mushrooms in a small space, they don’t need much light and can grow on all kinds of waste streams that are a big problem in our towns and cities.”

“And mushrooms are just cool!” adds Mim Black, who joined Rhyze in October 2020, as the project really got going. “They create life because they break down matter and turn it into soil and themselves. They can grow on things like oil, breaking it down and turning it into themselves, and then when you test the mushrooms they don’t have any of the toxicity from the object they grew from. A lot of people know about how mycelium connects a forest’s trees and spreads nutrients between them. In a way, mushrooms are an amazing metaphor for how we can resist capitalism because by building community and sharing and by being a bit more like mushrooms, we have a better chance of undoing a lot of the crises that we’re currently facing.”

Rhyze describe themselves as an anti-capitalist food collective, more interested in giving people the tools to grow their own produce, than making a profit from the fruit of their labour. As Marco says: “One of the things we’re interested in doing is trying to rebuild some kind of food commons and to empower people to be able to feed themselves and their communities, and not have to always depend on monetary exchange and the world’s food supply chain which we see as inherently exploitative.”

Mim reckons that lockdown has given people a greater appreciation for the natural world and growing things themselves. “It’s a vital part of being a human being, especially being in nature collectively, like volunteering at gardens and allotments,” she explains. “That’s definitely something we want Rhyze to be a part of and we’re already working with a couple of gardens around Edinburgh to set up farming that mixes with mycology because there are various mushrooms that have really good symbiotic relationships with plants.”

As well as growing mushrooms themselves in a big, yellow shipping container, Rhyze also runs workshops to teach people how to grow mushrooms at home. “People can grow mushrooms in their households just by using household waste, like old coffee grounds or cardboard,” says Marco. “So it's also accessible to people who might have mobility issues as constant bending over and gardening can be a big challenge. That's one of the things we're also interested in: finding ways to grow food that are accessible to everyone, not just people who are mobile and have access to green space.”

Rhyze is still in early development – they incorporated as a non-profit in December 2020 – and are slowly recruiting volunteers for specific roles. The collective aims to be non-hierarchical, a flat structure in which everyone’s voice will be heard. “We want everything to be accessible and open sourced,” adds Mim. “We’re not aiming for endless growth, [rather] we want to work in cooperative and non-hierarchical ways. We want communities to come to us for the blueprint but then do what they want with it.”

In Rhyze’s near future are free mushroom growing workshops, a big opening party when the team finishes work on their shipping container farm and recruiting new members as part of the government’s Kickstart Scheme (so, if you're under 25, on universal credit and excited about mushrooms, watch this space). Being a radical food collective is hard work – physically and emotionally – but one that bears bountiful returns. “It’s constant labour but what you get in return is just incredible,” says Marco. “The crucial role that fungus plays in our ecosystems has only really come to light recently. Rhyze is a cool way to motivate people and start conversations in communities and households about ecology, how everything's connected and how we humans need to care for our ecosystems – or they’ll stop caring for us.” 

Visit rhyzemushrooms.scot to find out more about Rhyze and to sign up to their newsletter