Nebraska Student Builds Canoe Out of Mushroom Roots
28-year-old Katy Ayers, created this 8 ft. long boat out of fibrous mushroom roots, known as mycelium. The roots are usually found under the soil and are known for their dense, buoyant and waterproof properties. Ayers believes that mushrooms can be a potent solution toward fighting climate change.
Ayers, who is a student at Central Community College in Columbus, has grown her own canoe using fungus and it sprouts new mushrooms every time she takes it out on the water. She has named the boat ‘Myconoe’.
During her research, Ayers came across a 2013 documentary called “Super Fungi,” which said that mushrooms are an environmental ally and emphasized some of their innovative uses.
I always have very big ideas. So, I see something and it’s small and I just want to make it bigger and better. Since I’m from Nebraska, I love to fish. I’ve always wanted a boat. Why not just grow it?
With the help of a mini-grant from her college, Ayers reached out to a mushroom company’s owner Ash Gordon in nearby Grand Island to share her idea. Gordon agreed to help her and offered her a summer internship to learn more about fungi.
During the day, Ayers worked with Gordon at Nebraska Mushroom, doing lab work, creating spawn and harvesting, packaging and processing mushrooms. After the work, both worked on the canoe project. They first built a wooden skeleton and a hammock-like structure to overhang the boat-shaped form in the air. They filled the boat’s skeleton with mushroom spawn and let nature take over.
For nearly two weeks, the new canoe hung inside a special growing room in Gordon’s facility, with temperatures varying between 80 and 90 degrees and the humidity ranging between 90 to 100 percent. The last step was to let the 100-pound boat dry in the Nebraska sun.
Ayers spent $500 on spawn, tools and equipment to build the canoe. She displayed her “Myconoe” at the 2019 Nebraska State Fair.
Ayers has taken the canoe out for three test floats, counting the one in which two people comfortably sat in it. Each time they take it out for a paddle, fresh mushrooms grow out. The efficacious mycelium canoe inspired Ayers and Gordon for experimentation with making chairs, landscaping bricks and other items.
Now Ayers is sharing her newfound fungi fabrication knowledge with other students at the community college. She’s part of Growing Pathways to STEM, a full-ride scholarship program funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to help low-income and underserved undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering and math.
In addition to her full-time course load, Ayers works as the community college’s sustainability intern, keeping tabs on energy use across the community college system’s seven campuses and centers.