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Fungi fanatics' forest foraging

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 6th, 2012

photo by Jon Stinnett Left: Ross Owens of Wild Mushrooms, LLC, buys some chanterelles from Crystal Jackson and David Chipman.

By Jon Stinnett

The Cottage Grove Sentinel

Each year, the first rains of autumn find a small army spread out across the public and private forestlands around Cottage Grove, an army with different methods and motivations but a singular focus—fungi, more specifically edible mushrooms.

It’s a phenomenon that began late this year, according to Ross Owens, a mushroom buyer with Wild Mushrooms, LLC, a company that’s been buying mushrooms from local pickers in the Cottage Grove area for two decades. While many here were busy enjoying the last blast of a clear, warm Indian Summer, Owens and the area’s hardcore pickers lamented a season that refused to get going.

“It’s been terrible this year,” Owens said. “The rains were six weeks late. Sept. 1 is typically when things take off.”

“Last year, there were places I would go and bring out buckets,” said veteran picker Mike Christie. “This year, I’m lucky to get 7-10 mushrooms.”

Owens said the season could still redeem itself if the rain (as forecasted) again begins to fall in earnest.

“It still has a chance to make up for the slow start, as long as it doesn’t get too cold,” Owens said. “A hard freeze is our worst enemy. Two to three days of temperatures of 25-28 degrees will freeze everything under the forest canopy.”

On Monday afternoon, a sizable group of pickers had already begun bringing their haul into the Wild Mushrooms warehouse in Saginaw. Most brought in bushels of chanterelle mushrooms, an orange, meaty fungus prized in Europe and America. The price paid to the pickers for their work, $5 a pound on Monday, has steadily been falling as more pickers have begun to find mushrooms, Owens said.

Pickers also find hedgehog, Chicken of the Woods, Lobster and other mushroom varieties locally, Owens said, and in a good year (such as happened in 2010, when the company brought in 5000 to 7000 pounds of mushrooms a night) several mushroom buyers will pop up to take advantage of the bounty.

“We have loyal customers, but a lot go where the money is,” Owens said. “There are no obligations or hard feelings, ever.”

For the complete article see the 11-07-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-07-2012 paper.

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