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FarmED Books: Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

Sunday Times bestseller about fungi. Reviewed by FarmED Programme Coordinator, Edd Colbert.

Fungi. They are literally everywhere, from the food we eat to the air we breath, and perhaps in some places we'd like not to imagine. Yet central to Merlin Sheldrake's spellbinding book is a call for us to not just take fungi more seriously, but to actually start thinking more like fungi - at least this is the perspective that has enabled him and others to have major breakthroughs in the study of these fascinating organisms.

Many of us eat mushrooms, be it buttons, portobello or porcini. Some of us will drink mushrooms - the yeast in our beer (like our bread) also belong to a group of fungi. Yet many of us don't realise that almost all of the food (and drink) we consume is in part made available to us through the incredible work of fungi. A particular type of fungi, known as mycorrhizal fungi, exist in mutual symbiosis with the plants that feed us and the animals we eat. These fungi, which exist as underground networks, fuse themselves with plant roots, exchanging minerals and water for carbon molecules that plants produce from sunlight. While such relationships have only been studied seriously in recent decades, Sheldrake reminds us that they are as old as life on earth. Indeed, without such relationships plants would have never been able to migrate from aquatic to terrestrial life.

This book comes at an important time, as there is increasing recognition that the way we farm has a tremendous effect on mycorrhizal relationships as well as other aspects of soil life. Disrupting natural systems like this may result in short term yield gains, yet as the evidence in this book demonstrates, unless we work with or as a part of nature, we are likely to undermine the resilience of farms to pests and extreme weather conditions in the future.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures is a treasure trove of fungal facts and refreshing perspectives that, similar to the superpowers of another group of fungi, leave the reader's mind somewhat altered. In particular this book has further deepened my appreciation of the universe beneath our feet. Yet perhaps more importantly, the book reminded me how much about our world there is to learn. When it comes to the way we treat our soils, it is important that we recognise our role of students rather than dictators of the natural world. One initial lesson I've learnt from these hyperconnected beings is that resilience is a function of the strength of the networks and relationships we find ourselves in.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures is Published by Bodley Head and is available from all the usual outlets, including local bookstores.


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