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Mushroom Hunter Beck Ferguson On How The Shrooms Are Sprouting This Season

Chantrelles are the mushroom most wildcrafters have in their sights at the moment.
Chantrelles are the mushroom most wildcrafters have in their sights at the moment.

They've been showing up at your farmers markets, on local menus and hiding in plain sight on your hikes through the woods. Mushrooms are popping up all around us, so Vermont Edition thought it would be a good time to check in with someone who hunts them for a living.
Beck Ferguson owns Mansfield Mushroom Co. He’s also a wildcrafter who hunts for mushrooms and other wild foods.

As more wild mushrooms start popping up this summer, he and other harvesters are urging Vermonters to enjoy the fungal bounty responsibly.

Ferguson says wildcrafting differs from foraging in its mindful and sustainable approach to harvesting wild foods.

For mushrooms, that means taking the whole fruiting body—down to the bottom of the stem—and never harvesting all the mushrooms at any one particular site.

Picking mushrooms the wrong way, he warns, can damage living organisms like trees the mushrooms may be growing on. Cutting part of a mushroom can also lead to exposure and infection in the mycelium, the often underground network of mushroom roots.

Ferguson says a spate of warm weather has been good news for wildcrafters eager to harvest.

“Golden chanterelles have been coming in, kind of explosively now with the heat," he tells Vermont Edition.

"We’ve been waiting for the heat all spring, it’s been a really cool, wet spring. And now that summer’s here, they’re really turned on.”

Ferguson stresses any wild mushroom should be verified in multiple guidebooks before being eaten.

He encourages novice and expert wildcrafters to check photographs, written descriptions and spore prints before eating a mushroom they harvest.

Another prized mushroom in Vermont is the deer truffle. While not as coveted as the more well-known black or white truffle (which Ferguson says do not grow in Vermont), it offers a sweet, earthy flavor for Vermont wildcrafters to enjoy.

Late summer and fall will yield porcini and black trumpet mushrooms, which Ferguson says are among his favorites.

But are the mushrooms in local grocery stores at all comparable to the taste of wild mushrooms?

“Absolutely not,” Ferguson says.

"All wild food is really unique. Where it’s growing, how long it’s taken to create the environment, the niche environment it's thriving in. And as far as mushrooms go, there are so many mushrooms that grow in the wild that people have tried to cultivate for hundreds of years with absolutely no success. So, they only exist in the wild and you really can’t recreate the flavor they produce."

Listen to the full interview above to learn about other wild mushrooms aspiring wildcrafters can seek out, and other wild edibles like the plant angelica.

Broadcast live on Thursday, July 25, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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