SPRINGFIELD — At Zoom Out Mycology, in the heart of the Pacific Northwest’s lush rainforest, sustainability crops up where you least expect it — underfoot, in the hard-to-reach mud of the forest floor, like the mushrooms at the heart of their operation.
The company is a cultivator of mushroom teas, something its owner, Bashira Muhammad, calls a true “labor of love.”
For her, brewing a cup of tea is much more than a cozy ritual, it’s a conversation tool — a way to talk about applied mycology (the study of fungi) as a sustainability strategy.
“We don’t give nature medicines or historic medicine the credit they deserve,” she said. “And they can be used for soil remediation, healing food systems and so many other things. You can blend science and history. Even something as simple as tea can do that.”
Bashira educates others about using these strategies in her sustainability workshops — many of which focus on the intersections between the experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and radical sustainability efforts.
“I didn’t always have the confidence to step into everything I know just being here represents,” she said. “I didn’t have the self-awareness to know that I could have the impact I was having. But now I see it, and it’s an honor.”
She got fungi-fever after listening to a Paul Stamets lecture at Southern Oregon University in 2015 to talk about the relationship between fungi and the health of bees.
Bashira, who had recently arrived in Oregon from New Jersey as part of the National Student Exchange Program, was hooked.
“That’s the day when I definitely knew what I came here for; I was going to work with fungi,” Bashira said.
At 19, she opened Zoom Out Mycology with the help of her family, starting a small farm in Southern Oregon just before the start of the Covid pandemic.
“There were lots of people at home, interested in growing their own food,” she said. “And I think that comes from the shock of the moment we were living in — so for us, the pandemic was good in some ways. I think it also showed just how important healthy food systems are.”
Today, Bashira and her team process different strains of edible and medicinal fungi throughout the year, producing sawdust spawn for people to grow fungi at home, as well as several different kinds of mushroom herbal teas. Their ingredients are sourced from Oregon Department of Agriculture licensed mushroom producers and foragers. The mushrooms featured – Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Maitake – are true superfoods, and superheroes.
Each pound of tea takes one to two hours to produce – a manual process of snapping, grinding, and mixing the dried products to create their signature blends at Bohemia Food Hub, a 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen aimed at jump-starting new businesses and improving livelihoods within the community of Cottage Grove.
She chose the name “Zoom Out Mycology” to highlight the broad focus on sustainability her business takes by incorporating social, environmental, economic and institutional principles and practices.
“If you think about it like a microscope or a camera, we can zoom in to a Springfield level or go as big as the whole globe,” she said. “Some of the challenges I care about the most are food security – so I’m applying the science of mycology, food production, soil remediation, to really make it feasible to have no people going hungry.”
Her favorite fungi fact?
“It only takes one square acre to grow 1 million pounds of button mushrooms,” she said. “And as a country, last year, we only consumed 900 acres worth. So there’s a lot of different ways that you can resolve food security, or at least work towards that. And some of the biggest ways I do that work is through education, remediation, and research.”
Bashira said she loves both the research and fieldwork aspects of her job, and the educational component. She has partnered with ScienceWorks in Ashland to lead summer youth camps, and with the OSU Extension Service to present a four-part series of workshops on growing and using mushrooms to promote environmental sustainability and most recently with the “Anti-Racist and Decolonial Agriculture Series,” put on by the rogue valley food system network and Southern Oregon University on Black Herbal History.
Amplifying cultural knowledge is something Bashira keeps close to her chest. “Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in so many cultures,” she said. “Japanese, Chinese and Indigenous – the list goes on. It’s a historic medicine, and I’m always learning from it.”
Her next lecture will highlight the ways mycology can be used to heal food systems, promote radical rest amongst farming communities and even provide an alternative to pesticides.
“My specialty is the scientific study of fungi, and yes, mushrooms are fungi — but there’s more than that. There’s yeast, molds, and mildew and so many other things,” she said. “It’s that network of growth that grosses most people out. But I love it. There’s so much potential.”
It all came full-circle when her 9-year-old brother Saafir Jr. asked her a simple question:
“What’s this?” he shrieked, when a fly landed on him.
“He thought it was a bee – and that’s when it hit me,” she said. “It reminded me that my work is important. It will impact people I care about. It impacts my community. Even though it wasn’t a mushroom, it’s all nature. It’s all connected.”