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Foraging and Cultivating of Fungi

There is more to mushrooms than your average portobello! Each week, the owner of Mycophile’s Garden, Chris Swinson, fills his table with a rainbow of fungi at the Fulton St Farmers Market in Grand Rapids. All of the delicious mushrooms were either cultivated by Swinson, other local mushroom growers like Bankson Lake Farm, or foraged by community members. They source about 30% of their mushrooms from foragers during the fall season. 

While there is no formal mushroom foraging network in Michigan, after selling mushrooms for five years, Swinson has assembled a small network of foragers in West MI. Though he cultivates mushrooms, like oysters and shiitakes, but some fungus cannot be grown, so he relies on foragers to supply them. Foraged mushrooms, such as chanterelles, porcinis, black trumpets, hedgehogs, and chicken and hen of the woods, are loved for their flavor and valued for their rarity,

This fall has produced a bounty of chicken and hen of the woods so far; Mycophile’s Garden sources up to 30 pounds of them weekly. People love chicken of the woods for their unique meaty texture, and they really do taste just like chicken! Sautéed in butter, they make for great tacos, or breaded and fried for a “chicken” sandwich. Chicken of the woods is easily identifiable by its yellow or white pores and vibrant orange center (Laetiporous sulphureus and L. cincinnatus). It is found growing on dead or dying trees, and has a unique shelf-like growing pattern

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are gaining a new appreciation for the outdoors right now, and one of the most fruitful ways to enjoy them is foraging! From mushrooms to berries to edible flowers, foraging can be a survival skill and provide a rewarding addition to your meals. With a bit of reading and a walk through the woods, you may find some of these gourmet mushrooms for yourself. 

Besides eating mushrooms for dinner, you can use any gilled mushroom for a scientific art project, in the form of a spore print. Foragers and mycologists use spore sprints to identify mushrooms based on the color of the print. These prints make beautiful outlines of the gills of the mushrooms and do so in different colors!

Beginner Sources for Foraging: 

Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club

• Follow a Facebook Mushroom Identification group to post photos of what you find and get an ID from experts!

• Look out for foraging classes in your area! Mycophile’s Garden will be hosting socially-distanced cultivation courses this fall. Watch out for an announcement!

Payge Lindow is the West Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at payge@localdifference.org

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