Basking in Mushroom Limelight
“Mushrooms have many helpful nutrients, including beta glucans for immune enhancement, ergothioneines for antioxidative potentiation, nerve growth stimulators for helping brain function, and antimicrobial compounds for limiting viruses.” — Paul Stamets, American mycologist
Previously in this series: The Life and Death of Moonlight Mushrooms
“Falling in love is like eating mushrooms, you never know if it’s the real thing until it’s too late.” — Bill Balance, early “shock jock” radio host
I had to be at Butler County Mushroom Farm at nine a.m. the next morning. According to the law firm’s file, BCMF was headquartered in West Winfield, Pennsylvania, which I’d never heard of. So I called BCMF and told the lady who answered the phone that I had a meeting out there the next day and needed directions to the company from Pittsburgh.
“Oh, it’s easy!” she said enthusiastically. “You take Route 28 north to Route 128 west, pass through the village and less than a mile later turn right on Mushroom Farm Road. After that, just follow your nose!”
With these odd directions ringing in my ears, I headed out at eight a.m. the next day. Driving north on Route 28, I passed Fox Chapel, Harmarville, Cheswick, New Kensington, Tarentum, Natrona Heights and Freeport. After that, Pennsylvania ran out of towns and I seemed to be approaching Buffalo, New York when I caught sight of Route 128 and headed west on it. I passed through West Winfield, turned right on Mushroom Farm Road, and promptly discovered what the lady had meant when she’d said to follow my nose.
A distinct aroma of manure was wafting through my car’s ventilation system, as though some farmer had just fertilized his field. Except the smell didn’t dissipate but only got stronger as I drove along the road. Up ahead I saw what I at first thought was black smoke rising fifty to sixty feet in the sky. But as I approached the site I realized it was, in fact, millions of flies, attracted by a large mountain of the horsesh*t they were turning into dollar bills.
I parked in front of the BCMF offices, climbed out of my car and, unfortunately, breathed. I nearly fainted dead away, and if I’d died on the spot my last thought would have been to wonder why anyone would go to law school for this.
Staggering inside the company headquarters, I told the receptionist I had an appointment with Mr. Y. “What are you selling?” she asked.
Once we got that straightened out she gave me directions to Mr. Y’s office, and back there his secretary told me Mr. Y had “walked down the hall.” I assumed this meant he’d gone to the men’s room, but in any event she said I was welcome to wait in his office.
I sat down in one of his guest chairs and noticed on Mr. Y’s desk a sign that read:
PEOPLE TREAT ME LIKE A MUSHROOM. THEY KEEP ME IN THE DARK AND FEED ME HORSESH*T
While I was chuckling at this, Mr. Y himself burst into the room cursing like a sailor. “Those [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] are trying to shut me down!” he exclaimed. “And I know who put them up to it! It was those [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] in Kennett Square, that’s who!”
Mr. Y shoved a document at me and jammed his index finger at it. “Just look at this!” he said. “It’s an outrage!”
While I read through the papers he’d given me, Mr. Y paced back and forth across his office, muttering to himself. The document was a citation from OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration), ordering BCMF to cease all activities until they had complied with OSHA’S orders.
It turned out that BCMF grew its Moonlight Mushrooms in underground limestone mines, and as far as the bureaucrats at OSHA were concerned, a mine was a mine was a mine. Rules and regulations that had been developed for far more dangerous coal mines were applied blindly to BCMF for no better reason than that, back in the 1920s, the place had been a limestone mine. But it hadn’t been a mine since 1937, when BCMF was founded.
An OSHA inspector had made a surprise visit to BCMF and, after he left, he issued a citation to the company demanding that the company provide all its workers with steel-toed work shoes or shut down immediately. “That’s in case,” Mr. Y told me sarcastically, “somebody might drop a mushroom on his foot.”
BCMF had ignored the citation on the grounds that it was so stupid it would naturally disappear. Instead, the company had been served with the cease-and-desist order.
If I’d been a slightly more experienced lawyer, or if I’d been supervised by a more experienced lawyer, I would have known exactly what to do – appeal the order via an established review commission. In fact, attached to the OSHA order was a sheet explaining the appeal process.
But when I researched the appeal process, I realized that appeals from OSHA citations were heard by administrative law judges who were on the payroll of the same federal government – we would have gotten a fairer hearing at a Stalinist show trial.
Instead, I filed a motion with the federal court seeking to enjoin OSHA from enforcing its order, not on the grounds that the order was stupid on its face – which it was – but on the grounds that OSHA had no jurisdiction over BCMF because the company wasn’t operating a mine.
To the shock of everyone involved, especially OSHA and me, a federal judge granted the motion and halted enforcement of OSHA’s order pending a full hearing on the merits. For a week, I was a hero at BCMF.
Next up: The Life and Death of Moonlight Mushrooms, Part 3