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Hoping to use fungi to decontaminate soil

New Zealand couple grows and researches mushrooms

Mihau Sówka and his wife Valetta moved to their rural property Motueka Valley in March, getting ready to make the next step for their burgeoning business, Matariki Mushrooms. They converted a garage into a workshop. There, organic straw is transformed into nutrient-rich substrate. The also fitted out a shipping container with a laboratory and two temperature-controlled compartments.

In the far end of the container, dark, warm conditions replicate an underground environment. Here, mycelium grow in bags of substrate. When the mushrooms start to fruit, the bags are moved into the next compartment to grow under carefully controlled daylight conditions.

Fungi featured strongly in Mihau’s childhood in Poland and Germany, he explains. His grandfather grew mushrooms in abandoned bunkers, and every autumn the young boy would go hunting for fungi with his mother. At university, he studied environmental science and permaculture: interests which have come together in the work he does now.

With a grant from Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, an organisation that supports social change and Māori wellbeing, the couple are studying mycoremediation​: using fungi to decontaminate soil. They hope this will one day be a core part of their business.


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