Fortunately, Dena and Charlie of PNW Wild Mushrooms had a bit of time to share with me today. They usually work steady seven days a week to provide foraged fungi and plants across the United States. In fact, not only was I able to meet these incredible foraging fungi legends, but they also sent me home with a large sample bag of treasures from the Pacific Northwest forest.
Danielle: Hello, Dena. Thanks for sharing your time today. What do we have here?
Dena: Normally, we process in this building. We do winter greens and winter mushrooms. We process winter greens during the springtime. We do the winter greens, and we have onions and stinging nettle between the winter mushrooms and the spring mushrooms. That’s a really good one for people that are off the grid. It’s a very healthy plant.
It’s good for everything, and it’s out in the wild. You just go find watery, BlackBerry areas and pick the top of it off and dry it and make tea, or you can make soup. Cook it up like spinach, whatever you want to do with it. We ship it out fresh.
Or we use this as a dry nettle. When it’s fresh, you can’t touch it because it has those little stingers on it. But if you leave it in the air to let it dry, then you can break it off and put it with your tea or coffee or whatever you want to make. Another healthy one we offer would be the Turkey Tail mushroom. We get that off of trees or logs. Most of the time, they are on dead logs.
Dena, what is that machine over here?
It is called a scraper conveyor. The mushroom that goes on here has to be big enough so it doesn’t fall through. We primarily use it for our morels and chantarelles through the season of August and all the way into sometimes February, depending on mother nature.
We feed the belt here, they go down there, and they get blown. Then we sort them into sizes, and we take the stuff that’s not good out, especially when it gets really wet. And then they drop off the end into this into the baskets. Then we bring them over, and we do whatever we do with them. We put them away in the cooler after they’re cleaned. But that’s how we get them clean.
It’s just air; there’s no washing or anything like that. Water breaks down the mushroom. The pickers we buy from, other foragers, come in and bring their stuff, and they know not to rinse them at all.
We do dehydrate some stuff like our green onions. I just crumpled it up, and I put it in my bullet, and then I make a powder, and it’s super yummy!
How did you get started in this business?
Charlie, my husband, and his father were hunting, and they started running into the mushrooms and learning about them. They kind of taught each other in a way. His dad knew about some of the mushrooms before Charlie did. Then they both got into the commercial side of it together while they were hunting. Charlie doesn’t hunt anymore. He’s too busy finding mushrooms.
Charlie, how many years ago did you start running into mushrooms with your father while hunting?
Probably about 30 years ago, we started picking mushrooms while we were hunting. Then soon, we quit hunting and just picked mushrooms. It just kind of expanded, and the next thing I know, we got orders of a few 1000 pounds of mushrooms. So, we’ve been at it ever pretty much ever since; the last eight years, I think.
How many pounds a month are you two selling?
It really depends on the season. When we have good seasons, we’ve brought a couple of 1000 pounds a night into our base station. Some people forage and go out there (we’re talking just one buy station with maybe four or five other base stations in the same town in the same area a half-hour down the road), and we’re still getting 1000 to 2000 pounds a night! It doesn’t happen every night, but at the peak season, that’s usually what it is. The buyers are generally getting a couple of 1000 pounds a night for about a week.
How are you able to process that much product?
We work seven days a week, 300 days out of the year. We do it because we enjoy it. We’re supposed to be retired, but we’re actually working more now than ever. So it’s not always 2000 pounds a night, but we run about 60,000 pounds of chantarelles down that belt in a season, August through December.
Do you have help?
We have some people that come in sometimes and help us run it.
But you primarily do everything?
We have at least two people during the busy time one to two days a week, helping get the winter mushrooms and spring greens ready to ship.
The morels actually started yesterday. She bought seven-eighths of a pound. We’ll probably be buying 10 to maybe 100 pounds a week within two weeks. Then it’ll all be local stuff, and we’ll start moving out and buying two, three hours from here. Eventually, the Burns will take off, and we’ll be probably six to eight hours, sometimes 12 hours from here. And we’ll set up a buy station, like an awning or a tent with a couple of tables, scales, baskets, and the commercial pickers will come in every night and sell their mushrooms.
Every year is different. Some years, there’s a lot of mushrooms, and there are fires all over, so the pickers get scattered around. Other years, there’s only one or two good fires, and everybody ends up on those. Then you get a lot of competition, prices are higher for the picker, and everybody gets a little bit.
If we need mushrooms and raise the price 50 cents, everybody comes to us that night. Then the next night so and so is buying them. And there’s probably six or eight of us sometimes in one little area, one little town. Other times, we’ll be the only buyer, and everybody else will be scattered out between California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho. Hopefully, that’s what we’re looking at this year. It seems like there might be a lot of mushrooms this year.
Is your supply meeting your demand, or are you selling out?
2021 we were in a drought, and we could not supply the demand. Nobody could. Everybody wanted more than what we could give them.
The price was too high, so we probably averaged around 1500 pounds a week last year. It was a really tough year. Hopefully, this year is going to be a little better show.
We got some rain, and some moisture, so we are seeing the product early now. Last year, we didn’t see morels until probably the very end of April. They were morels coming from an area in Oregon, where they were only getting maybe eight pounds a day, and they’re getting a couple hundred a day now. So, it’s better than it was. That’s a very good sign.
We’ll go into the morels, the huckleberries, and then into the chanterelles, lobster, lots of shiitake, and Colliflower. At the same time, they’re picking huckleberries; that’s when they start finding the Rishi and the Turkey Tail like it’s found in the winter.
All year long, there’s usually something going on. This week next week, we might have a break. Yeah, but I bought a little morels last night, so we’re planning to get the camping gear together, head out of here, and start scouting.
It sounds like you two have a lot of fun! It’s no wonder why you two do not want to retire.
Yeah! We meet a lot of people, there are a lot of different cultures out there, and we’ve learned a lot of stuff. We’re learning about all these products the land has to offer, and it’s pretty awesome.