As a teenager, Arif Towns Alonso occasionally – and unsuccessfully – searched the mountains around his home state of Mexico for hallucinogenic mushrooms. But it wasn’t until he spent a few post-college years in Oaxaca, learning from local hongeros (mushroom hunters), that the pre-med student became a bonafide fungi fanatic. “The Oaxacan Zapotecs retained their traditions and know which mushrooms are edible or poisonous,” he says.
Alonso, 28, and his wife, Maia Bachmann-Padilla, eventually relocated to the creative community of San Miguel de Allende and perfected a system for cultivating the meaty produce. Today, 150 bags of straw, injected with spores, hang in their home’s grow room, which maintains 75 percent humidity levels and employs UV lights to zap predatory fungus gnats. The resulting bounty fuels the town’s top restaurants and organic markets.
Recently, the couple expanded their focus beyond edible oysters and shiitakes after stumbling upon Ganoderma lucidum, a medicinal species reputed to shrink tumors and boost immunity. “Discovering mushrooms changed my life,” says Alonso, who just may change the lives of others.