DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: A MycoCrusader on the horizon

“MUSH LOVE,” SHE signs her posts. And LiLy Athair can get mushy as she moves through the world. A single mother and a woman of wild imagination, she blogs about how much she loves life.

Athair grew up in Chelan when it was an agricultural town. She’s always wanted her own farm.

She started with a greenhouse full of fungi, growing the mushrooms she lays out on her table at the Port Angeles Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Her business, The Morel Compass, has as its true north the growing of food for her neighbors: multiple mushroom varieties including oysters, lion’s manes, nemekos and wine caps.

These mushrooms are her daughter Satya’s favorite food.

Let’s get to the imagination part. Athair is raising money, through Kickstarter and through direct micro-investment, for the MycoCrusader, a mushroom farm on a former tour bus.

The Kickstarter campaign closed this past Monday; Athair continues to collect contributions via PayPal. Those flow straight to her without the percentage deducted by the crowdfunding site.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Laurel Hargis of My-Oh-My Pie, another market vendor, said of the mobile farmstead idea. She’s a fan of both Athair and The Morel Compass.

Athair plans to be at this Saturday’s farmers market, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Front and Lincoln streets, selling her wares and telling her story. She also can be found at TheMorelCompass.net.

Her dream lives aboard her emptied-out 1979 Greyhound Crusader, which Athair calls “a wonderful blank slate.” She’s created the layout and business plan for a mushroom-growing operation, mycology laboratory and living space on wheels.

Athair and her daughter could roll right up to schools, science centers — anyone interested in local food sourcing — and show what-all is possible.

“I think people don’t understand the potential that’s behind it,” Athair said, “but when I talk to other mushroom farmers, they say, ‘Oh, yeah,’ ” as in go for it.

“I am a shy person,” she added. Mention mushrooms, “and I can talk all day.”

Farmer Kia Armstrong of Sequim gives a ringing endorsement of the mushroom bus.

“It’s extremely innovative and inspiring to me,” said Armstrong, who worked with Nash’s Organic Produce for many years, helping make that company into a formidable operation known across the continent.

“I have a lot of support for her as a young female entrepreneur trying to fill a niche in our community.

“Small-scale farming,” Armstrong added, “is one of the keys to our sustainability.”

Armstrong connected with Athair through Olympic Nature Experience, the outdoor preschool their daughters attend together.

The nonprofit ONE (Olympic NatureExperience.org) is another grass-roots idea that’s leafing out on the North Olympic Peninsula, offering not only the Owl’s Hollow early learning and nature skills programs but also the Adventure Club and after-school sessions for elementary-age kids at the Dungeness River Audubon Center just west of Sequim.

Back on the bus: Athair wants to insulate and repaint, and install shelving, plumbing and a heating and cooling system. She plans to convert it to run on vegetable oil instead of fossil fuel.

In the bus’ understory, she’ll situate a pasteurization unit.

She also plans to construct a small kitchen, bathroom and sleeping loft in the back.

“I can teach people how to farm,” she said. “I can drive up to a school.

“I think it’s going to blow people away how much food I can produce out of a bus.”

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Oct. 17.

Reach her at [email protected]

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