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Learning about mushrooms reveals 'hidden world beneath our feet'

'We should all know what’s out there, and how we can use it and protect it,' says Orillia's pioneer behind Ontario Master Naturalist program

Learning how to forage for mushrooms has turned into a gift of nature for Tanya Salituro.

Salituro is taking part in a mushroom workshop offered as part of Lakehead University’s Ontario Master Naturalist Program workshop series.

“My interest in mushrooms began as something very practical. I wanted to learn how to find and identify edible mushrooms,” explained Salituro.

Originally from Toronto, Salituro and her family recently moved to a rural property in Springwater Township, where they operate their business,, a producer of naturopathic health supplements, including medicinal mushrooms.

In her search for resources related to organic and subsistence farming, Salituro discovered Orillia naturalist Bob Bowles, who founded the Ontario Master Naturalist Program.

She quickly realized that he could help her understand the natural characteristics of her family’s property, including the wide variety of mushrooms in the nearby forest.

“Because of Bob and his unique expertise, I have fallen in love with the beauty of mushrooms," said Salituro. “There is such diversity – the ones on trees, on the ground, the jellies, hard ones, soft ones, colourful ones – and I had no idea about gills, spores, rings and stripes. Learning about mushrooms has brought the forest alive for me.”

Apparently the kingdom of fungi is something that inspires passion among others as well.

Luke Eckstein is one such person. He completed the inaugural Ontario Master Naturalist certificate program eight years ago when it was launched by Lakehead University, in partnership with Ontario Nature.

He became fascinated with the study of mushrooms and is now co-instructor with Bowles for the workshops and study sessions about mushrooms.

“Like Tanya, people often begin their study of mushrooms because they want to find edible mushrooms, or to simply know more about the fungi they see in the woods or their backyards,” said Eckstein.

“As well as the thrill of the search, the students also realize there is much more to fungi than the edible species they were initially interested in,” added Eckstein.

“They develop a better understanding of an entire hidden world beneath our feet in the soil, within trees, rotting wood and all around us. Their exploration in the outdoors quickly develops into a lifelong passion for learning about nature.”

This is what Bowles hoped the program he founded, and now coordinates, would accomplish – an understanding among students about their natural surroundings.

“We should all know what’s out there, and how we can use it and protect it,” he said.

The Ontario Master Naturalist certificate program is a community program that offers a series of learning modules, along with field work, covering a wide range of subjects supporting environmental stewardship. Workshops are offered separately on specific topics, such as mushrooms.

“With the support of the community engagement department at Lakehead, we were happy to be able to continue the program this fall,” said Bowles.

The mushroom workshop was offered online using video presentations, photos and student get-togethers on Zoom.

“We’ve been able to create a sense of community in a time when we’re not able to do so in the usual way,” said Bowles. “After our initial Zoom presentation, we send participants out to their backyards or nearby forests to collect species and then we Zoom together again to discuss findings. It’s worked really well; the students get to understand what’s in their own local areas.”

For Salituro, who is now foraging mushrooms in her own backyard, the experience has inspired a newfound love of nature.

“The opportunity to learn from others and understand nature is a gift, a blessing,” said Salituro. “It’s often overlooked by city folk, as I was up until recently.”

Salituro says she is interested in learning everything she can about her environment and looks forward to enrolling in the Ontario Master Naturalist certificate program eventually – when the time is right.

Although she managed to carve out some time to learn about mushrooms, she is currently a busy mother of four, growing the family business, and learning to become a successful subsistence farmer.

The next Ontario Master Naturalist certificate program will begin in January. A series of workshops are also in the works for the winter. For details and registration information, visit the Lakehead University website.


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