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Avery Stempel, co-founder of Collar City Mushrooms in Troy, N.Y.

The Arts

Backlot Cinema at Epsilon Spires returns with ‘Fantastic Fungi’ and thematic pop-up dinner

BRATTLEBORO—Now in its third season, the Backlot Cinema at Epsilon Spires will present an outdoor screening of the 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi, following a five-course dinner catered by Collar City Mushrooms of Troy, N.Y., and the Brattleboro microgreen company Grateful Greens.

The event will be held on Saturday, Aug. 20, and is the first in a series of film screenings at Epsilon Spires exploring sustainable food production.

“Collar City Mushrooms grew out of the acknowledgement that our food supply system is broken,” co-founder Avery Stempel said in a news release.

Stempel uses indoor vertical farming to produce food in an urban area with a much lower environmental impact than traditional farming techniques. He explains industrial-era cities like Troy are ideal for this kind of farming because of the abundance of empty buildings that once were used for manufacturing.

“Urban vertical farming can be done with relatively little square footage, and provide freshly grown, hyper-local produce the same day it is harvested,” he said.

Stempel says he was inspired to start the farm in order to combat the growing problem of “food deserts,” a term for areas with no local access to fresh food, as well as to “reduce our carbon footprint by lowering transportation costs while providing a highly nutritious product to our friends and neighbors.” He adds that Collar City Mushrooms is “very excited to be a part of this growing wave of small, independent indoor farmers supporting the localvore communities.”

Grateful Greens, whose indoor vertical sprout farm uses solar power and rainwater, explains that this method is not only better for creating low-carbon local food systems — it is also more resilient than traditional farming in our rapidly changing climate.

“Improving the way we produce food can enable any community to provide healthy, tasty food for itself in any climate or situation, all year long,” the company says on its website.

Fantastic Fungi, which was co-produced by Collar City Mushrooms, explores these multifaceted and mysterious organisms that provide countless benefits to mankind, from their ability to filter toxic waste to the therapeutic potential of psilocybin in treating terminally ill patients.

The film, which combines stunning time-lapse photography with enlightening commentary, is described by the Los Angeles Times as “entertaining, informative, and appealingly hopeful about the hard-working cure-all for our ailing world lying beneath our feet.”

The dinner will begin at 6 p.m., and each course features local and sustainably produced food paired with beer from Hermit Thrush Brewery and kombucha from Yesfolk, a family-run fermented tonic brewery based in Troy, N.Y.

Tickets for both the dinner and movie are $80 and extremely limited; tickets for the Backlot Cinema screening of Fantastic Fungi, which will begin at 8 p.m. in the lot behind Epsilon Spires, are $5 to $12. Both are available for purchase at epsilonspires.org.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #677 (Wednesday, August 17, 2022). This story appeared on page B1.

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