.Fungi Fun: 5th Annual Earth Day Mushroom ‘Hunt’

San Rafael’s Earth Day Mushroom “Hunt” is here for its 5th consecutive year of spreading joy and good cheer to Marin’s citizens.

And all it takes to do such an amazing thing and light up a community is some Champagne corks, paint and a spark of creativity.

The concept is simple for those unfamiliar with this yearly, locally beloved tradition. Just come on out to Gerstle Park on April 20, between 10am and noon to see and/or participate in a delightful spectacle in which people of all ages can “pick” a handcrafted cork “mushroom” (or 10).

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

After experiencing the thrill of foraging and hopefully taking a few fungi for the road, participants are encouraged to spread their treasures by planting them elsewhere for another person to find, pick and plant in an ever-spreading treasure hunt of the highest order.

This year, 350-plus mushrooms are set to sprout overnight on one particularly lovely Marin landscape in the Gerstle Park neighborhood of San Rafael, just in time for eager “foragers” to find them on the morning of 4/20.

The “hunt” is entirely free, and people of all ages are welcome to participate. The cork mushrooms are great for adorning one’s own lawn or for taking to fun new places and unique, unknown locations. In previous years, some of these fungi traveled as far as Long Beach and, in the case of an ambitious and adventurous mushroom bearer, to Africa.

This Earth Day Mushroom “Hunt” was conceptualized and created five years ago by Marin local Adrienne Biggs. Biggs was born and raised in Santa Barbara in the 1970s to professional musician parents, to whom she attributes her love of planet Earth (and her thrifty ideas about things like corks).

“Earth Day, like life, is sometimes about lots of people making small changes and looking at things differently,” Biggs explained. “How could I creatively reuse or repurpose this item (bag, old sweater, corks)…How might it be reimagined and possibly even have a second life?”

After moving to Marin from San Francisco in 1995, Biggs found and helped create a sense of community within the county, never forgetting the creative lessons of her childhood and the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

“After 30 years, Marin is my home,” said Biggs. “I’ll walk down the street and always bump into someone I know, and that’s what investing and building community looks like to me…and by the [Mushroom Hunt’s] third year, I started coming home from time to time to find little bags of Champagne corks on my doorstep. They would be addressed to the Mushroom Lady, and so I became the Mushroom Lady.”

Before the Covid-19 lockdown started, Biggs had already begun to collect Champagne corks from her work tending high-end events. So, when the pandemic paused these events and gatherings in particular and society in general, Biggs had a lot of time and Champagne corks on her hands.

“During Covid, I was just out howling at the moon, and one day I looked at [the corks] and thought, ‘Hey, they look just like mushrooms,’” Biggs explained. “So, I painted them…and then when Earth Day was coming up, I thought to myself it would be great if I could somehow get the kids in the neighborhood to find and pick these mushrooms. And then a friend of mine was like, ‘Why don’t you have a mushroom hunt, like an Easter Hunt?’”

The rules for this Mushroom “Hunt” are simple and best explained by the woman who created it. “Come by, take one or 10 and plant them in your yard,” said Biggs. “This is just a joyful, free and creative thing to do, so have fun!”

And the rest of that story is a history now five years in the making. Each year sees a new wave of jauntily painted cork mushrooms sprouting and spreading in a network very much akin to the actual underground mycelium network that links together the world’s fungi beneath our very feet.

“Mushrooms are an integral part of our lives, and the planet we occupy, in more ways than most people can imagine,” said Keeley Sloan, a member of the Mycological Society of Marin and a new friend, neighbor and fellow cork painter to Biggs. “I loved joining this spontaneous painting/gathering opportunity Adrienne created to bring community together and provide a fun, free, family event that could also inspire a few next gen (real) mushroom foragers. Happy hunting!”

“I love helping with the Earth Day Mushroom Hunt,” added Lara Starr, another mushroom-painting Marin local and Biggs’ friend of 25 years. “From sitting around a table with friends to paint and prep the cork mushrooms, to planting them in the ground on the big day. It’s wonderful to see so many neighbors and families who are so excited to find and hide the mushrooms. So much of our world is so homogenized; things like the Earth Day Mushroom Hunt are what make a place a place. Unique, quirky, home-grown and done for the joy of it. The kids who participate will always remember this special event.”

Small acts of kindness and finding ways to gather together and extract joy from simplicity are key components to creating and sustaining a community. All across Marin, in a million different ways both big and small, every single day, people are busy collecting, painting and planting their own metaphorical mushroom Champagne corks in an invisible network with a much farther-reaching butterfly effect than one may ever imagine.

“It’s the small acts of kindness that matter most, and it can start with looking at a Champagne cork and not throwing it in the trash,” concluded Biggs. “Compost, collect and do something creative with your kids with them…and you’ll be surprised to see the conversations that bubble up and the bond that comes from the experience. And if it starts there, then it’ll ripple out into your life, your relationships, your block, your neighborhood, your county and eventually the world.”

The 5th annual Earth Day Mushroom “Hunt” is set to take place from 10am to noon on Saturday, April 20, in the Gerstle Park neighborhood, 26 Marin St. (at Clorinda) in San Rafael. This event is free, so guests are welcome to attend armed with only enjoyment, enthusiasm and curiosity.

To donate Champagne corks, volunteer to help paint next year’s batch o’ shrooms, or learn more about the creative process behind these mushrooms, visit gerstlepark.com.

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