The West Coast’s mushroom season is roughly halfway through and running strong, but a local buyer believes the best is still in store for the local spore score.
Mushroom picking is largely unregulated, though restrictions exist in National and Provincial Parks, and each August brings a flurry of visitors over Sutton Pass hoping to cash in on the forest floor’s burgeoning marketplace.
Pine, chanterelle and chicken of the woods are the three top local mushroom crops with chanterelles being the most prized among them and pickers spend roughly five months of the year combing the landscape in search of them for either personal use, or to sell to a buyer who then ships them off to restaurants and food distributors around the world.
“The West Coast has the nicest chanterelles in all of British Columbia,” Butch Sheaves told the Westerly News from his buying station at the foot of West Main adding the local climate is perfectly conducive to mushroom crops. “Conditions, conditions, conditions…The weather, the fog, the grounds, everything.”
Sheaves has been involved in the local mushroom industry for the past 26 years.
He said he’s seen an average of 20 pickers arriving at his buying station off Highway 4 each day this season, with each one bringing in an average of roughly 18 pounds of mushrooms, earning around $6 per pound,
He added, though, that some locals, “the guys that know their patches; the serious pickers,” bring in around 50-80 pounds a day.
He added he prefers dealing with local pickers who are familiar with both the territory and the industry.
“Know your pickers. Some pickers will bring in [unsuitable mushrooms] to you every day…It’s the quality pickers that know their trade,” he said. “You get newbies coming in and they come in with three or four pounds each and it looks like they’ve been through a whipping machine because they don’t know the area and they don’t know how to take care of their mushrooms.”
He expects the Coast’s popular chanterelles to continue coming in until mid-November and suggested next month could be one of the busiest he’s ever seen.
“We get what you call flushes. We get four flushes of chanterelles every year and we’ll get four this year. We’re halfway through our second flush right now and the crop is looking beautiful,” he said.
“We’re looking at perfect growing weather. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. A day or two of rain wouldn’t hurt, but, right now, we’re looking at perfect conditions. The mushrooms are coming in wet and they’re coming in healthy. They’re gorgeous…We’re going to have a huge October.”
Tofino local Cal Westrand began picking mushrooms about five years ago as a way to supplement his income and quickly took to the scenic workplace and enjoyable source of exercise.
“You’re going for a walk in the forest and seeing nature all around you,” he said. “I like seeing the birds and the slugs and, every once in awhile, you see little fish in the streams that you cross…I go with my girlfriend and it’s a nice romantic walk in the forest.”
He said novice pickers should avoid picking mushrooms smaller than a quarter and anyone unfamiliar with the area they’re picking in should always bring a compass.
“Give them a chance to grow bigger so there’s more weight and more profit for everyone…If you pick them real small, they’re not going to weigh as much and you won’t fill your bucket as quick and when they don’t weigh as much, they’re not worth as much,” he said.
“Always bring your compass and always trust your compass. No matter what. Some people get turned around because all the trees look alike. Unless you’ve been out there over and over around the same area, then you know every tree and every stump and you remember where every mushroom grows.”