Mushroom pickers share their October harvest at annual show

Othmar Kagi

With Missionite Othmar Kagi, there’s nothing more fun for this guy than picking wild mushrooms.

The founder of the Fraser Valley Mushroom Club in 2005, Kagi has had a lifelong affinity for the mushroom ever since he was a boy in his native Switzerland. A neighbour used to take him for a walk in the mountains and they would gather mushrooms together for dinner.

When Kagi moved to Canada, he continued his enjoyment of seeking out wild mushrooms in the coniferous rainforests of the Lower Mainland. It was while he was living in Richmond and was a member of the Vancouver Mycological Society that he met Mission’s Juergen Kuerten, who started the first annual mushroom show in 2005.

When Kagi moved to Mission, the two friends decided to form a club throughout the Fraser Valley that today has members from Hope to North Vancouver.

When Kagi began going on hikes around Mission, he would often see people leaving with mushrooms. When he would asked them what they were going to do with the mushrooms, many confessed to not knowing what they were.

That’s when he decided he needed to help educate people about the mushrooms that grow locally.

“Lots of people do not have any idea about how important mushrooms are — not just for food but for mother nature,” he said.

While now a considerable expert in mushrooms, the allure of stumbling across rare types of fungi continue to bring him out into the woods, rain or shine.

“It’s always the ones which you haven’t found yet,” he says, referring to the perpetual quest to find a new type of mushroom.

He still remembers the time he found his first golden-hued chanterelle mushroom, widely considered by chefs as a gourmet fungi on par with truffles and morels.

Kagi says when new members to the club come for a walk the most frequently asked question is whether the fungi they find is edible. But more important than what’s edible is what’s poisonous, he warns.

The toxic amanita phalloides, more commonly known as the death cap mushroom, is noted for its whitish-greenish cap and grows around Mission.

They resemble several edible species, which is why it is responsible for the majority of the world’s accidental deaths from consuming mushrooms. Just 30 grams of the mushroom is enough to kill a human.

Mushrooms grow year-round in Mission, but the season generally begins in spring when the cottonwood trees begin to bloom and the early morels come out. Following the spring the black morels come out, and are found most abundantly in areas where there has been a forest fire, though scientists don’t know exactly why.

“Mushrooms are funny because if the climate isn’t right for them, if it’s not the right temperature, or moisture, or lighting, or place, they’re not there.”

That means mushrooms that grow in one place one year might be in a completely different place the next.

October is the best harvesting season for mushrooms, since they are most abundant in number before the winter frosts wipe them out.

The seventh annual mushroom show takes place Oct. 16 at St. Andrew`s United Church on Grand Street from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There will be mushroom tasting, identification, displays, and club members will be on hand to answer questions. Admission is $3 and children under 12 are free. There’s also a kid’s corner.

Visit www.fvmushroomclub.ca for full details.

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