I’ve hosted or participated in pasture walks that feature ice-cream churning, soil health measuring, grassland bird watching, winter grazing techniques, dung beetle counting, stockpiling strategies, land listening, cattle judging and predicting forage production. They’re all hooks to get folks to attend and focus on learning another aspect of pasturing. I would suggest adding another adventure to your pasture walk repertoire—Mushroom foraging.
A few weeks back, my wife and I headed north to Brylee Farm in Thurso, Quebec to help Brian Maloney and Lise Villeneuve celebrate the end of their barn-wedding-venue season while partaking in copious amounts of Rosé wine, affectionately known as “Last day for Rosé.” Before the festivities, Brylee hosted a diverse group who were were heading to the savanna-like north pastures in their quest for mycology magnificence.
I learned I was in the presence of fungi greatness as the sanctioned event featured “The Mycologues Amateurs de l’Outaouais” or Google translated to mean, the Outaouais Amateur Mycologists, named after a river that flows along the boundary between Quebec and Ontario to the Saint Lawrence River near Montreal. With a nod from Brian and some conversation in French referring to me as a journaliste international (international journalist), I took my camera and writing pad and joined my bilingual mushroom mentors, James Tremblay, Diane Miner Tremblay and Josée Mongeon.
I asked my polypore peeps about this mushroom hunting excursion and was politely informed that we were “foraging” not “hunting.” I watched as 30 people spread out over the pasture and mixed woodlands, each equipped with a mushroom field guide, backpack and collection basket, a mushroom knife with a brush on one end, a magnifying glass, trowels and walking sticks. Ms. Tremblay also had a referee’s whistle.
“What’s that for?” I inquired
“In case we get lost or see a bear.”
Yikes, Bears! BRIAN!!!!
My engaging team taught me about the kind of environment and tree species that facilitate the growth of the coveted mother mycelium. On our adventure, maple and cedar trees were a bust, but birches, conifers and rotting hardwoods were where the action was. They showed me mushroom morphology and specific traits like folds, linings, gills, pores, ridges and teeth that are essential for correct mushroom identification. It really took me back how many mushroom varieties reside literally under your feet. I was totally oblivious, but my team refined my grazier’s eye to become a fungi master.
Of course I was like a kid in a candy store exploring and asking, “What’s this?” all the time. My patient guides hung in there as we tromped through the understory and musty, wet margins to discover and collect polypores, morels, oyster mushrooms, puffballs, hen of the woods, turkey tail, and a cornucopia of “shrooms”, I couldn’t possibly name or know if I could eat safely. The international journalist did raise his team up a bit when I stumbled upon a wet draw, flush with a patch of coveted, fairly-rare, blue chanterelles. Maybe the grass whispering extended out to the spawn.
When the 30 Mycologists assembled at Brylee’s Parrilla and spread out the 2 hour harvest on picnic tables, it was unbelievable how many and the kinds we’d found. The bounty of edible forest and field mushrooms might be worth a small fortune to a farmer who is properly trained. Diane also showed me a few lethal mushrooms that, well, might fetch a few bucks for “other” reasons.
Eating exhibits true respect for the craft. So we enjoyed our harvest sautéed with butter and served with Braylee Farm’s grass-finished, marinated bavette steaks.
Administrator for the Mycologists, France Biron, said the farm “is a great venue for the group to explore, learn, eat and find happiness in appreciating the farm’s bounty and networking with like-minded people.” Seems to me this would be an awesome event for all pasture-based farms and organizations to give a try in their community. Perhaps it’s one more opportunity for diversifying, and for building relationships and helping others understand what we do as farmers.
It was so interesting to share in the mycologists’ passion to identify the finds and listen to the many aspects of a virtually unknown craft like mushroom foraging. The next time I’m on the land, I’ll be inspired to look down and not be in the dark. Thanks to James, Diane, Josée, France and the group of mushroom sleuths for giving me the chance to learn. Thanks to Brylee Farm for being forward-thinking in partnering with customers and letting them realize the terroir of the land.
If you’re in eastern Canada and want to become part of the mushroom foraging family or host a pasture/morel walk, check in with The Mycologues Amateurs de l’Outaouais!