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Mushrooms as Leather and Building Materials
I first stumbled upon Mushroom leather–or “Muskin”–while looking for ways to grow leather using Kombucha. Mushrooms are mostly made out of mycelium, which is the underground root structure that spreads out thin hairs beneath the dark, damp forest floor. Mushrooms secrete germs into their food source which decomposes it and allows them to thrive. They are our primary recyclers and are responsible for clearing out a large portion of our debris–they take dead organisms and turn them into useful minerals. Mushroom leather is tissue-like, similar to animal leather, but can be grown and bred much more quickly than it takes to raise an animal.
When you touch Muskin, it feels like animal leather. It moves and breathes the same way, is waterproof, and 100% biodegradable. However, no chemicals are used in its dyeing process and it can be grown to any shape and texture. Mushrooms have historically been used to cure skin diseases, meaning it is not irritating on the skin and can even help to cure some ailments. The growing process also uses only a bit of water, whereas the cattle industry uses 50% of America’s water supply each year.
We can even use mushrooms to start manufacturing solid items. MycoWorks Media is on the front lines of mycelium innovation. They have been able to use mushrooms to create metals and then break them down again. The fungus material is incredibly heat resistant and can be exposed to direct flame without any issues. The material can even be used to create bricks for building homes: the structure is much more resistant to aging and will even warp under extreme pressure rather than outright breaking like concrete, making it ideal for earthquake and poor weather prone areas. Mushroom materials make excellent insulation for building homes, and it is incredibly bacteria resistant. All agricultural waste is viable for mushrooms to grow on. It is perfectly poised to take the place of plastic in our society.
The Growing Process
So what is the mushroom growing process? First, you need to mix farming substrates (waste like corn husks) with spores. Once you thoroughly mix them, it will form a matrix that will be the base of the material. You then put the matrix material into a container that it will take the shape of as it solidifies. MuSkin specifically is grown using Phellinus ellipsoideus, and produces a leather that can be purchased for $50 a square foot, or it can be grown at home.
To start, you will need sealable glass Tupperware, corrugated cardboard, King Oyster mushrooms, a sterilized scalpel, and a dark place to store. You first cut the cardboard any lay it within the container, then soak it in water for 30 minutes to separate the pieces. You then use the scalpel to cut small, thin slices off the base of the mushroom. Lay out a corrugated sheet and apply the thin pieces on top. This will give the mycelium space to grow into. Lay the flat layer of cardboard on top. Repeat until all materials are used. Store in a dark place at room temperature with the lid closed. Each day, allow the box to breathe a bit. Watch it grow.