8/19/19 Sierra Leone

This is Belle typing for Jawara bringing you today’s blog.

Hello this is Mohamada Saio Jawara just to extend my greeting to the entire staff of Mushroom Team and students of Lehigh University and the United States. I am so happy to work with the team and I believe that working with the students at Lehigh is a great opportunity for me. So I would like to congratulate the professor Khanjan and the entire student body who make it possible to be in Sierra Leone and help elevate the poverty and hunger in our country. Thank you very much.

Well, with the mushroom we started it in 2018 with a team from Lehigh who made some trials but it was very unfortunate we were unable to get mushroom growing out of the experiment. But, with the intervention of the professors we think that this might not be the end of it, we must try harder to make it work. In 2019 Khanjan brought another Lehigh student by the name of Belle and Marc who did some trials and with these trials I believe we’ll have success and we must see that this project becomes a viable project. I know with all the experiments we have done with the students we are on the right track. Maybe it will be fruitful for us very soon.

Thanks so much for contributing Jawara!

As we are winding down our trip here Marc and I have been reflecting on our propose and impact. While on the outside our project might look like a few college students running around reorganizing bags of mycelium every day we are focused and creating a lasting impact on the Sierra Leonian infrastructure and habits regarding agriculture. We aim to leave those we work with with a mindset focused on sustainability and feasibility.

The update is, we have opened one grow bag so far, it may have been opened too early (*cough* *cough* *Marc!!!* *cough* *cough*) and has dried out. We have several more bags nearing fruiting and one which has show the tell tale signs of bunching. Two of our 5 grain spawn attempts have been successful and one will be ready W e aim to open that right before we leave Makeni on Wednesday and will be hoping from a call from Jawara while we are in Freetown saying “We got it!”.

These past couple days we have been testing grain types trying both millet and red rice. We want to leave Jawara with several pounds of spawn to continue making bags although eventually Jawara will have to mast the spawn process as well.

8/17/19 Salone


Mushroom Team Blog

Today Marc and I got to sleep in which made us really productive for the first few hours of the day. We decided to research and try as many substrates as possible while we are here. Today was cassava day. We went to the market in search of yucca and cassava leaves. We did one trial with just the yucca and minimal cassava and then a second trial with a significant amount of cassava leaves. Both of these were put out to dry but unfortunately were not done before it was time to go to dinner.

We will check on their progress and cleanliness tomorrow when we go to work.

The finally, edits have been made to the “How to mushrooms” checklist made for Jawara. Unfortunately do to some technology hiccups we haven’t been able to print it out. We really need photos on the final version and so far we haven’t been able to load them onto the document.

8/16/19 Salone



Chris James Fereno, confirmation name Peter, is an awful writer, please see wordpress.lehigh.edu/SLmalnutrition august 16, 2019.

The early morning sunshine hits the three cars, we scrambled to turn our breakfasts into portable sandwiches. It was the perfect day for a trip in the back of the World Hope pick up truck. Filled with bread and laughter we tumbled  out onto the rocky drive of the office. Greeted by Abadu and the puppy Lucky (who is still being held captive plz go visit our gofundme//freeLucky).

Marc and I traipse to the fields. Clouds moved over our heads both literally and metaphorically. Marc and I traded off swinging the hammer. Metaphorically sinking nails into our problems and frustrations and literally sinking nails into our new mesh sieve. Four inch nails disappeared one after the other. By the end of our project our hearts were light, Jawara was making fun of us, and we have a mobile rice drying station.

Like the lizards flying between the moss-covered trees the mushroom team leaped across the flea infested fields and escaped with only a few bites each except for Marc; he is covered. As we darted inside to escape the pending rain Marc went in search of … a cloth? The soapy water swishes around the bottom of our steel pressure cooker. Marc, ft. a cloth, cleans the vessel we are preparing for our life bringing grain spawn. The essence of our fungus, so white and pure, starts its life in this lifeless steaming hot steel drum. Am I waxing too poetic?

Like a baby walrus on the beach, I flop towards the safety of familiarity, the howl of my father, or the cool air in the conference room. Back in the safety of the conference room, free from ants and fleas (though not spiders a mouse or gnats), Marc and I plot our next innovation…. More to come tomorrow.

8/15/19 Salone


Mushroom Team Blog

Today started off with a hunt for a hammer. Marc, Jawara, and I decided to complete the interior and sides of the structure ourselves. We decided to go with fabric for the sides of the structure because despite its lack of durability it is the most breathable. So, with left over nails we measured and cut our fabric and nailed it into place. Marc also had to break the lock off the door because it had rusted so badly that even though I promise we had the key we couldn’t open it anyway. It was a good way to pound out any frustrations.

Photos of the structure will be uploaded when I get to Brussels and have wifi.

Tomorrow night we have a meeting with Khanjan about our EPA Proposal. We need a research question in order to start writing and we haven’t been able to find a direction to go in. There are so many avenues when working with fungus I don’t know what our main focus should be. We also need a brand name for our budding company. So far Khanjan has suggested “American Mushrooms” which is terrible. We are leaving most creative decisions to Jawara but he is mostly coming up with really long names that aren’t brandable. Maybe this is a job we out source.

8/14/19 Salone


Mushroom Team Blog

We started off today with heaps and heaps of thunder and rain. Since were working on a roof with sheets of metal we were a little worried. However, after and hour the thunder subsided and Sheku appeared and was ready to go, but man are we tired of the rain.

The roof went up well and the designs were well understood. Now we need siding and we can rehouse our mushroom grow bags and they should enjoy that more than their current living situation – a shelf in a bathroom.

The real goal of this mission is to leave Jawara to work to do. Which I think we will have done. It’s very daunting heading to a country for 19 days knowing a grow cycle is at bare minimum 17. I sincerely hope that after Marc and I are gone Jawara harvest some mushrooms for us.

If all else fails Marc and I have invaluable hands on experience working in Sierra Leone. The more we know about this beautiful country the more we can do to mold our project to their needs. Something I learned that was long long (not too long) ago Sierra Leone was colonized by the British but Salone is surrounded by francophone countries used for their agricultural resources. Salone was used for its diamond resources. This provided Marc and I with some valuable background information. Its not my place to commentate on the still prevalent damage colonizing did in Africa but the knowledge at least explains the trouble the past green house project is having and the dependence on rice.

In the future I hope our fungus based project expands to supplement education on other types of produce.


Sierra Leone 8/13/19


Mushroom Team Blog

Let’s go shopping!!

Today first Marc and I took Emanuel and Jawara to the market and got the materials we will need to repair the second section of our mushroom house. The original plan was for the first section of our mushroom house to be the fruiting room. However, usually the fruiting temperatures for our culture is 70 to 85 degrees and the first section was much too hot. The remedy to this is making the first section a drying or streaming room. The once drying room that is the second section will now be converted to our fruiting room. So now that this was decided on we needed to plan a layout that will allow for convection. Bakar, Emanuel, Marc, Jawara, and I drove to the part of the market where all the timber is found. We found that a corrugated metal roof allows for more circulation. Additionally, once we thought about it we can leave a large gap to the left side of the center of the roof which will be covered by metal from the right side. This unusual gap won’t allow rain in but it will allow air out. The rainy season really impacts all of our construction decision. Our concluded market trip resulted with 9 2 by 4 pieces of wood to rest our metal roof on, the metal roof, and many cases of four-inch nails. The real challenge will be finding a day sunny enough to construct.

After every batch of substrate we prepare we have been choosing with grain spawn to use.  The “special” culture we brought over is called pink oyster. This culture is supposedly more vivacious, doesn’t require refrigeration, and is better at out competing bacteria than other oyster strains. Unfortunately, everything we had heard about this strand appears to be false because it is nearly dead.  This now creates a shortage of spawn available to make grow bags, so we have to be careful about how much or each strain we use so we don’t kill the other two cultures we have brought with us. In time the grain spawn bags we have been creating will become healthy enough to start grow bags with second generation spawn. But healthy spawn takes time so for how Marc and I have to stop making so many grow bags. Our initial few days in Sierra Leone we made enough to hopefully leave Jawara with a few fruiting bags. Creating literature is our new goal. A list of all the steps to take to make grain spawn, substrate, and grow bags will be very helpful to Jawara once we leave. And regretfully we are leaving very soon. This disappointing fact is held off only by the look of our current grow bags which show white healthy mycelium colonizing the bags without any contamination. Yay!

Sierra Leone 8/12/19


Mushroom Team Blog

Last week  Marc and I worked on grow bags but today we finally got to grain spawn. We taught Jawara the process of boiling grains and draining it and pressure cooking it. It is really important that we get uncontaminated grain spawn here in Sierra Leone. The spawn is not something that we can import for other countries or at the very best we can’t import it affordably.

Overall, you need grain to create every bag, and we will eventually run out. If we don’t get more this venture can’t be successfully, at least until we can import more. No pressure.

Vapor kept escaping the pressure cooker without our gauge changing at all. I believe the problem is that our pressure cooker is not a fan of dirt and caused some issues with the pressure gauge while sterilizing. In the end we left it on as long as was possible and are hoping for the best. At this point Marc and I are pretty good at judging when something is or isn’t done. This is great as long as Marc and I are here but once we leave we take our expertise with us. Jawara and Emanuel lack some of the patience that Marc and I have built up from working on mountaintop. However, we have been working on a detailed plan with pictures, times, and temperature instructions we should be leaving Jawara in a good place to continue our work.

Earlier in the day Marc and Jawara arranged for Sheku to come look at our structure again. Unfortunately the timing didn’t match up for him to meet with us today but we promised he would come around 9 tomorrow morning. We are arranging for him to put a tin roof over one section and dark walls to make a fruiting room. This will have cooler temperatures and more darkness than our other room. The material we are using for these walls is up for debate. The black plastic raises the temperature of the room, the blue tarp isn’t very durable, and using thatched palm fronds is cheaper but might invite more bugs and isn’t as long lasting.

Understandably every material we pick has its ups and downs so Marc and I need to figure out what the final cost of all the materials will be and get Jawara’s opinion and this will be the final deciding factors in our decision.


Sierra Leone 8/10/19


Mushroom Team Blog


Today was a Saturday so we went to work a little later. We met with Jawara and decided since we were forcing him to work weekends we should also torture him with tests. The idea is that at the end of our trip here Jawara can lead tests for us and teach other people the basics of growing mushrooms.

There are a set of steps we have laid out for Jawara and we need to make sure he can do them all without asking many questions. Every test we have done so far he has asked “is this correct” after every step. I had a growing suspicious that he knew perfectly what to do and only asked for reassurance. So today I pretended to be mute and just watched. He successfully disinfected his hands. Packed two bags with two different substrates. He put good spawn in both bags, identifiable by its white color. After this he closed and mixed both bags. The only thing he forgot to do was to return the good spawn back to the fridge. This will eventually kill it so it is a worrying mistake but I’m sure it won’t happen again.

Today we made three spawn bags. We are almost out of spawn so in the upcoming days we will need to start creating new spawn. This process is much more sensitive than making grow bags so Marc and I will need to be extra careful. We are going to run experiments on different types of cereal grains because we had trouble finding the same types we used in the United States.

Sierra Leone 8/9/19


Mushroom Team Blog

Today is one of the last days where we can make grow bags. Something that is important is to supply the grow bag with protein. We do this by cooking our protein source in with our substrate bags. There are many things that can be used as protein sources. In the united states we used hay but here we want to use something that is an agricultural waste product. One the sides of the roads every day for lunch people are selling barbecued corn. Marc buys some almost every day. While researching some alternatives to hay I found that you can use corn husks, peanut shells or banana fronds. All of these are widely available here. Because corn is such a common food we believe that this will be our easiest choice. We have purchased a few large bags of the stuff to test. Today we are making at least two grow bags with corn and straw substrate. The malnutrition team (go check them out at https://wordpress.lehigh.edu/slmalnutrition/) is using peanut butter in their recipes and to make this they are shucking many peanuts. Rachel graciously allowed us to use her scraps so Marc and I will be making another bag with straw and peanut shell substrate. Below is a photo of substrate right before we pasteurize it.

These bags will unfortunately have to be created tomorrow because the straw wasn’t dry, but they’re almost ready to be created either way.

I also made friends with a really cute dog named Lucky pronounced Loki. Anyone want a new pet?

Sierra Leone 8/7/19


Mushroom Team Blog

Today Marc and I created mushrooms grow bags. We sterilized straw at 160 degree or above for 45 minuets on a coal fire. After that we left our straw to dry in the mushroom house. After is was dry we sterilized all out materials and hands using gin (isopropyl is too expensive) we inoculated our grow bags. This means we added three cup fulls of Summer Oyster Mycelium (this probably amounted to 1 measuring cup).

Additionally, I ran test of the water from the faucet we are using to grow mushrooms on. The results are listed below.

Water Test Results:

Total nitrate 2.0 – 10 PPM (mg/L) much closer to 10 call it 9 

Nitrite 0 – .2 nitrite PPM  (mg/L) call it 0.0

Copper test – Between 0.0 and 0.05 PPM (MG/L) of copper call it 0.0

Lead – POSTIVE greater than 15 PPB – (second line darker than first line = constant positive, see photo below) 

pH- very low – inconsistent because total alkalinity is less than 80 ppm but shows between 2.0 and 4.0. Is not accurate. 

Total alkalinity – between 0 and 40 significantly closer to 0

Total Chlorine PPM  – between .2 and 1, call it .6

Total Hardness PPM – between 0 and 50, call it 30

We have been emailing Dr. Pecchia at Penn State and talking to other advisers about the lead levels and interpreting the rest of the tests. The bacteria test results will not be readable for another 48 hours.

The real goal of today was to show Jawara everything that we are doing. He learned some new vocabulary and is really starting to understand our process. I have no doubt that by the time we leave Jawara will be able to continue everything that Marc and I have been doing. Additionally, Emmanuel started working with us today and is eager to help progress our venture.

The mushroom structure will need more work. Marc and I have planned out a way for each section of the mushroom grow house to have different amounts of light and air circulation so we can put each grow bag in an environment that suits its needs no matter what stage in its grow cycle its in. Hopefully we will be improving the structure over our time here. Right now, we are storing our two grow bags on shelves in the conference room because it is too hot or two bright in our mushroom house rooms. With any luck the two grow bags will be colonized with mycelium within two weeks and will then be ready to be moved to our fruiting room within the mushroom house.


That’s all for today!

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