Foraging with the Mushroom Man

Alan M

Outside Health and Fitness
March 16th, 2015

A Passion for Foraging

Can you talk about how you found your passion for foraging?  (4:08)

mushroomsIt started after college because I had never foraged before then. I went to Ivy league school and was influenced by eastern philosophy. I went hiking for the first time and cooked for myself for the first time. I became interested in healthy eating, organics, whole foods and it eventually led to wild food and foraging.

My family has always loved treasure hunting and scavenging. Finding something for nothing is fun and lots of people enjoy it.

People love to find a bargain or uncover a treasure and that’s really what you’re doing. (6:19)

I remember someone said “We live in the Garden of Eden here” It struck me that that appeal, that idea, of the Easter egg hunt is that old. We really do still have free easy food for ourselves.

How did you learn about Foraging? Is there a lot of written material on what is safe vs what is dangerous or is it something that is passed down? (6:55)

There is both written material and information available to be passed down. The first way I started to learn about it was through books and I don’t recommend that. I say DIY is DUM. It’s not the smart way to learn. The smart way and the easy way is from someone else.

You can find a club and learn about foraging first hand. I’m actually looking to start a national network of foraging clubs.

Books have short comings. They aren’t geared to your area and they don’t account for the nuances.

Why Foraging is a Better Option than Farmer’s Markets

Are mushrooms the primary thing that you forage for is it anything out there? (9:29)

It’s both. My specialty is mushrooms but I decided to expand so my season would be longer. I focus 80% of my time on Mushrooms July through September when they are out. In October, April, May, June those are really when the plants shine.

Why would it be good for folks to learn foraging as opposed to going to a local farm stand or a farmer’s market? (10:38)

If I took a survey of why people are coming to me there are seven strong reasons. Not only are they getting organic food it’s fresher and far more nutritious than what you can buy. Even food in a farmer’s market that’s been cultivated isn’t as nutritious as wild food.

There was a book out last year that said wild food is 10 – 100 times more nutritious.

Is that because we’ve over farmed the earth and many of the nutrients and minerals have been depleted, is that why? (11:31)

That’s not the main reason I point to. Our food has been bred for looks, taste and blandness that basically filters out the nutrition. We’ve been genetically modifying food for 10,000 years. We do it through selective breeding.

Can Urban Dwellers Forage?

What about people who live in a more urban environment. Is it possible for them to forage as well? (12:12)

dandelionThe good news is you don’t need woods for weeds. There is actually more wild food in the city than in the country. In any empty lot you will find some of the most nutritious things you can eat, like dandelions.

People say I’ll take my chances in the store. Their chances of not getting sick are better in the woods than in the store.

You teach people how to do this yourself. Do you have programs? (13:35)

Yes, we do tours twice a week. Another reason people come to learn about foraging is it’s free. With today’s economy that’s a big thing for people.

People don’t want to depend on stores. They want security and Independence.  It’s also healthier for people and the earth.

There is a lot of detrimental effects of irrigation in agriculture. Even from organic agriculture. In many people’s estimation growing food is the most destructive thing we’ve ever done.

Is Too Much Foraging Bad for The Earth?

If we all start to forage would we do the same type of damage or is it healthy for the environment for us to do that? (15:06)

Even if everyone went out foraging tomorrow it would be the best thing that could happen. It’s like saying we shouldn’t encourage bicycle riding because if everyone got on a bike tomorrow the streets would be clogged.

The damage foragers do can’t possibly equal the damage that we’re doing right now that we eat food that was grown.

What else there is to Forage

When you go on a tour I give you a handout with 120 things on it and only about 20 are mushrooms. Seeds and nuts, greens, edible flowers, fruit, berries, twigs and even insects are edible items that we find while foraging.  (16:43)

Different parts of the world are really big on crickets. (17:23)

There is a lot of movement and products with crickets. We don’t see crickets on our outings very often.

You’re a rap star too, right? (17:48) 

I call myself the mushroom man when I do my rapping…. (ha ha)

Foraging Education

You also have a program for children? (18:30)

Yes, we’re in the public schools and we’re working to take foraging national. I’d like to see it taught in schools as a basic skill.

The network could provide a market for wild food as well. (19:11)

My idea is to have a place where people can bring what they foraged and sell it. That gets passed on up to restaurants.

You could trade as well, right? (19:49)

Yes, I do that quite a bit here in Asheville already.

The Biggest Benefit from Foraging

I mentioned 4 or 5 of the reasons people come to see me and learn foraging but the one that means the most to me is that I feel more at home. More at home in nature and in general in the world. Foraging makes you feel that life doesn’t have to be a struggle and maybe there is enough for all of us and we can share. (20:47)

These are pretty profound benefits when we’re so stressed out all the time. Although I’ve never been able to confirm this, it’s said that Einstein said “The most important question we have to answer is, is the universe friendly?”

When I forage I feel like I’m in the Garden of Eden and I have this perpetual shopping spree and it seems like there is so much out there. It really changes this idea that we live in scarcity.