Nearly everyday at Untamed Feast, we get an email from someone who wants a job harvesting mushrooms. Most of the applicants list a love hiking, an appreciation for the outdoors, a commitment to natural food, a desire for adventure, and so on.
All of these inclinations are helpful but they are by no means sufficient. Essentials are more along the lines of independence, backcountry smarts, an ability to get and stay dirty, an acceptance of all kinds of biting insects, and flexible life circumstances. In short, to be a successful mushroom harvester you need to not only embrace your wild side but nurture and develop it.
Right Place. Right Time.
Veteran commercial mushroom harvesters know the importance of being at the right place, which is a skill set all on its own, at the right time, which is preferably shortly before the first mushrooms appear, for long enough, which means having the endurance to stick it out for as long as the season requires.
Being at the right place is a highly educated guess based on years of experience and knowledge of forestry, topography, and cartography. Choosing the right place begins months before the season does. It’s what separates the pros from the dabblers. No matter where your research leads you to place your bets though, Mother Nature’s cards may reveal a heat flush, a full frost, or a few straight weeks of empty buckets that will make you want to fold your cards and run.
There’s a level of commitment and patience, or perhaps it’s stubbornness, required to see the season through with all of its ups and downs, bad weather days, fruitless hikes, and speculations of greener pastures. This is why most mushroom harvesters are not 9-5’ers. They’re more likely to be entrepreneurs, outdoorsmen/women, off-the landers, retirees, hippies, treeplanters and other eccentrics. The cardinal rule is to make the time, when the time comes, to be there searching and waiting.
What’s the Allure?
Why are so many people infatuated with the possibility of being on Untamed Feasts’s crew? The romance starts with a heck of a good road trip. Includes sleeping outside. Dreaming under the stars and Northern Lights. Breathing fresh air all day and night. Waking up when you want to. Waking up to the sounds of birds or complete quiet. Matching your internal rhythms to your surroundings. Working as hard as you want to. Walking as far as you are able and then walking so much further than you think you are able. Spotting your first mushroom of the season…(say thanks or give it a kiss). Spotting your first mushroom of the day…(it never gets old and makes you feel like a kid on an Easter Egg hunt). Being reminded with every step that Nature thrives. Bathing in lakes, rivers, and falls. Watching the light through the trees change as the day rolls on. Taking a break whenever you feel like it. Seeing your day’s work stacked up like a chest full of treasure. Discovering you can lift more for much longer than you’d ever considered. Getting lost and then getting yourself unlost. Taking your boots off at the end of the day. That pleasantly unpleasant lactic acid ache in all the major muscle groups. Having a beer with your friends at the end of the day. Eating food from the campfire…(food always tastes better around a campfire doesn’t it?) Seeing wildlife – bison, bears, and birds oh my! (We’ve even seen wolves). Cameraderie like none other. Sharing the day’s triumphs and duds. Trading tips and secrets. Knowing that even if you are picking alone someone’s got your back. And let’s not forget the cash. When the picking and the weather is good, and there’s cash in your hand to reward your hard work, it seems obvious that this is the best job ever.
We Were the Wild
Above, or more aptly, beneath it all though, the deepest allure to harvesting wild mushrooms and any other wild food is that it satisfies a primal inclination to live directly off the land and to be interlocked with the natural world. It wasn’t that long ago, and for millennia until then, that we all hunted and gathered things in the wild. We were not just in the wild; we were the wild. It’s part of our DNA.
Most of us these days are so far removed from this type of activity that we might not even notice that we are missing anything. Until a breath of mountain air, a dip in the rolling river, or the taste of a wild berry astounds us and reminds us that we are Nature. So if you are appeased by a dip into that world for an afternoon or weekend, ‘not to be’, is your answer. But if you are seemingly pulled away from urbanity toward remoteness as predictably as the spring buds bloom, maybe it’s time to start nurturing your wild side.