A Wild and Organic Mushroom Company

By Ellen Walsh

The summer of '89 marked the beginning of Owen Rice's life long love affair with wild mushroom harvests. Specifically, it was that trip hiking through the mountains of Eastern Oregon that did him in. Hiking the idyllic beauty of the remote landscapes, he found himself picking wild morels along the way. An experienced hiker, straying from the main trail allowed him to find exotic mushrooms indigenous to the untamed forest terrain of the Pacific Northwest. Making the synergistic connection to other folks who made their living by following the mushroom fruiting, Owen found himself drawn to the mushroom harvest and the unique culture of wildcrafters whose passion for foraging produces fungal treasures like porcini, morel and chanterelle for some of the world's finest restaurants.

What began as a week-long camping trip became a summer-long odyssey as Owen followed the seasonal mushroom fruiting into ever more remote areas of the Pacific Northwest mountains, leaving the trails and hiking miles and miles off the main drag. Every day was a new adventure as we explored remote and beautiful countryside while following the mushroom harvest. Each new day was like an Easter egg hunt on a grand scale!

It wasn't all just fun and games though," says Owen, scaling a steep mountainside with a frame pack loaded with 50 pounds of fresh morels is no easy task. And you certainly have to be well prepared for that inevitable time you will get lost and spend the night in the mountains.

Definitely that means that Owen likes to hike, and that he is comfortable in the wilderness, the direct result of being part of a family that loved to camp and hike all his life. As he transferred that love of the outdoors into adult hood, he added his negotiating skills to the list of what he enjoyed doing. "The street negotiations of selling the mushrooms were an important part of the whole experience," added Owen. "There is nothing like hiking in the mountains and at the end of the day being paid for it!"

This passion was the beginning of Mycological, the mushroom company that sources fresh and dried wild mushrooms from the pristine mountain forests of the Pacific Northwest. Today, Owen's company employs 12 people year round, and specializes in the finest collection of mushroom varieties available. The fresh mushrooms are available seasonally and include morel, porcini, chanterelle, lobster, matsutake, cauliflower, black trumpet, yellowfoot chanterelle, hedgehog mushroom and three types of Oregon Truffle. Most of these varieties are also available year-round in dried form, and can be easily re-hydrated for a wonderful culinary experience. Drying intensifies the mushroom flavor, making dried mushrooms a good alternative when seasonal fresh mushrooms are not available.

“Working with dried mushrooms is very easy", Owen explains. “They can be stored indefinitely, and the intensity of flavor is really there. It takes 10 ounces of fresh porcini to create 1 ounce of dried. Just soak in warm water for a half hour, and throw into your favorite recipe." However don't throw out that mushroom stock you just created. Strain it first, to get rid of any sand particles. Then, use it as the liquid for whatever you are cooking, whether it be paella, a sauce or something you're roasting.

Mycological is known by restaurants and retail stores throughout the Northwest as the supplier to go to for Northwest sourced wild mushrooms. More recently MycoLogical has also added a full selection of fresh cultivated mushrooms, sourced regionally from Certified Organic growers. Delivered locally, all of the fresh mushrooms are also available by priority overnight shipping to most locations in the contiguous 48 states.

Recently, mounting requests for organic have also led Owen to add dried organic mushrooms to the MycoLogical line. The dried mushrooms must be sourced from many parts of the world, as they are not generally available from domestic growers, who tend to sell all their mushrooms fresh. Not wanting to abandon his local roots in Oregon, Owen made the decision to launch a second label, called Terra Dolce.

The Terra Dolce label will offer certified organic dried mushrooms and other culinary ingredients like chile peppers, sourced from around the world. Over time, all the organic dried mushrooms will be moved over to the Terra Dolce line. “This will allow us to maintain our focus on the Pacific Northwest with the MycoLogical lineî says Owen. That's where our mission is."

There is a politics to the wild mushroom harvest that is indicative of this area. The harvest of mushrooms and other non-timber forest products generates a great deal of income for rural families throughout the region. In many cases the mushrooms are shipped out of state or even overseas, allowing mushroom buyers to pump millions of dollars into the local economy, via cash payments to mushroom pickers who in turn spend that money locally.

Owen continues, “There are some who believe that the economic benefits of the mushroom harvest for the local and regional economy far outweigh the income generated from timber harvests on public land. The mushroom harvest is sustainable over time but when the forest is logged the mushrooms won't return for decades. The mission of MycoLogical is not only to provide a unique culinary experience, but also to provide information that informs the public about the need for the mushroom harvest and mushroom harvesters to be given a legitimate voice in forest management decisions on public lands."

For those interested, is a great place to find more information about the politics of mushroom gathering and forest management issues. U.S. Nontimber Forest Product Management & Biodiversity Conservation (click here)
Institute for Culture and Ecology (click here)

Other Related Links:

Mycological: Profile for Organic Mushroom Company

The Mushroom Forager's Guide to Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms

Tips on Buying Organic and Wild Fresh Mushrooms

Availability Chart of Fresh & Organic Mushrooms Seasonally

Organic Mushrooms for a Green Wedding

Mushroom Recipes

Mushrooms Demystified: Book Review

Foraging for Mushrooms In Mexico

PO Box 24940
Eugene, OR 97402
(888) 465-3247

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