.Marinshroom: MycoMarin finds fungus among us

Fungus is all around us, and so too are the fun-guys and fun-gals who gather together in the great outdoors to appreciate the arrival of California’s mushroom bloom each year.

The North Bay’s wet and rainy winters make for a rich mycological community, one which can be observed in the mycelium network underneath the earth, the mushrooms that fruit from it and the people who just can’t keep their minds off of said mushrooms.

Though the appearance of fungus is perhaps less readily apparent than a springtime swathe of purple and orange wildflowers across a hillside, mushrooms are no less enchanting a sight—at least for those who know where and when to look for them.

Once one begins to notice the amazing, often unseen world of mushrooms, it can be hard to stop seeing and even searching out new and intriguing sights of fungal delight: a log covered in turkey tails, jaunty jack-o-lanterns (orange by day, glow in the dark by night), puffballs in unlikely places…

West Marin, especially Point Reyes, is one of California’s most prolific places for finding and foraging many different varieties of mushrooms. Though foraging fungus is legal within the Point Reyes National Seashore Park, be sure to read up on the park’s rules and regulations before embarking on a foraging adventure. Or, if learning about fungus from local experts instead of reading about it sounds more enjoyable, consider connecting with Marin’s local and enthusiastic mycologists.

The Mycological Society of Marin (aka MycoMarin) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, run by local mushroom lovers for other local mushroom lovers. MycoMarin and its members are dedicated to their mission of educating and delighting the community with their collective and extensive mycological expertise.

Alongside their annual fungus festival, MycoMarin also hosts speakers throughout the foraging season, as well as workshops and exclusive foraging excursions for a select number of members.

“One of the goals of our society is to get people outdoors,” said Kevin Sadlier who, along with his wife, Xander Wessells, owns Green Jeans Garden Supply in Mill Valley and helped to found the Mycological Society of Marin. “By holding a fungus festival, we expose people to the wonders of fungus, and hopefully thereby stimulate them to explore the outside fungal world around them.”

The Fourth Annual Fungus Festival, Wild in Marin, took place earlier this month and was met with significant enthusiasm from the local community, who created quite the crowd in and around the Mill Valley Community Center on Jan. 6.

Despite the torrential downpour the North Bay hosted alongside the festival that weekend, droves of dedicated mushroom enthusiasts celebrated their love of all things fungal in style. Quite literally, considering the number of red and white mushroom hats, earrings shirts and more worn to add a certain festive fungal energy to the day.

Vendors aplenty assembled at the fungus festival to show off their wares and sell their creative, eclectic and downright delicious mushroom-centric merchandise, ranging from forms of clothes and linens stained with natural mushroom dyes, leather bags embossed with mushroom decals and other visual art to do with fungus (both wearable and not)—and, of course, more mushrooms than imaginable to buy, take home and cook up into a delicious meal.

Apart from mushroom merchandise available for purchase and perusal, guests at the festival were also able to enjoy live music—from a folk band called The Hot Clams—and partake in gourmet dishes such as fresh-foraged chanterelle soup, porcini grilled cheese and much more.

The delicious aromas and flavors alone are enough to make Wild in Marin an event worth attending, especially considering the unmistakable and enchanting scent of truffle wafting throughout the day.

“The truffles that came down from Oregon…those truffles were supplied by our friend, John Getz,” said Sadlier.

And as if all that music and mushroom-related food, merchandise and festivities weren’t enough to make this event well worth attending, the educational opportunities certainly did the trick.

The upstairs level of the fungus festival, for instance, hosted an entire room of fresh-foraged mushrooms that were gathered by MycoMarin members and volunteers, to be identified by experts the night before the festival. This allowed attendees to view real-life examples of mushrooms they may see in the wild, giving greater context and exposure to local fungi in a safe environment.

Meanwhile, the downstairs auditorium hosted speakers including Mayumi Fujio of Mayumix Botanical Design; Chad Hyatt, the author of The Mushroom Hunters Kitchen; Noah Siegel, the author of Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast; and Maria Finn, who was accompanied by her truffle dog named Flora Jayne. The festival also welcomed Alan Rockefeller and J.R. Blair alongside MycoMarin board members Edmond Allmond, Eric Multhaup, Cherry Allen Driscoll, Else Vellinga and Finola Diaz.

“I would love for Finola [Diaz, MycoMarin’s membership chair] to get more recognition…she is the backbone of MycoMarin!” said Wessells.

Upcoming events for MycoMarin include a presentation from Dr. Else Vellinga on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at the Mill Valley Library. Vellinga is a mycologist who has described 22 species of fungus as new for California.

The next MycoMarin event is set to take place on Wednesday, March 20, also at the Mill Valley Library, and will feature guest speaker Chad Hyatt. Hyatt is a classically-trained chef known for his expertise in not only foraging and preparing gourmet edible mushrooms but also in surprising diners with dishes made from the less-sought-out but still edible fungus among us. Finally, on Wednesday, April 17, San Francisco State University biology lecturer J.R. Blair will talk all about fungi name changes.

Other MycoMarin events to look forward to include Christine Lamour’s drawing workshop, Sarah Kleiner’s dyes workshop and a workshop for inoculating logs with Lion’s Mane.

MycoMarin members will also have the opportunity to attend forays to forage fungus under the guidance of experienced members who can teach the difference between a jack-o-lantern and a chanterelle. The former fungus glows in the dark and will give gastrointestinal problems to those who consume it, and the other is a delicacy in high demand.

To learn more about mushrooms and the people who can identify, find and cook them, visit the official Mycological Society of Marin website at mycomarin.org, call 415.389.8333 or send an email to [email protected]. And for all those first-time foragers, just remember to follow the golden rule of mushroom hunting: When in doubt, throw it out (i.e. please do not eat unidentified wild fungi without the thumbs up from an expert mycologist).

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