At an organic farm just outside Monterey, Calif., a super-eco building material is growing in dozens of darkened shipping containers. The farm is named Far West Fungi, and its rusting containers are full of all sorts of mushrooms--shiitake, reishi and pom-pom, to name a few. But Philip Ross, an artist, an inventor and a seriously obsessed amateur mycologist, isn't interested in the fancy caps we like to eat. What he's after are the fungi's thin, white rootlike fibers. Underground, they form a vast network called a mycelium. Far West Fungi's dirt-free hothouses pack in each mycelium so densely that it forms a mass of bright white spongy matter.
Mycelium doesn't taste very good, but once it's dried, it has some remarkable properties. It's nontoxic, fireproof and mold- and water-resistant, and it traps more heat than fiberglass insulation. It's also stronger, pound for pound, than concrete.