— Kevin Baird, EDN
Tucked away in the splendor of fall foliage and drooping moss, the 30th annual Mushroom Festival at Mount Pisgah Arboretum provided the quintessential fall experience in Lane County.
Rains came pouring down as masses of mushroom enthusiasts converged upon the festival to celebrate their love for fungi.
The first Mushroom Festival was an idea hatched by Freeman Rowe, a local mushroom expert. In 1981 he was serving on the board of directors at the arboretum, which was in the midst of a funding crisis. The arboretum couldn’t afford to keep its groundskeepers unless it came up with the more funds.
So Freeman pitched the idea of a mushroom festival to raise money so they wouldn’t have to lay off the groundskeepers. The Cascade Mycological Society (CMS) provided volunteers and the arboretum raised the funds it needed.
It’s been 30 years and Freeman Rowe is still a big part of the Mushroom Festival.
“I can look around and feel my little kid growing,” Rowe said as he observed the festival.
Freeman admits that he was worried about this year’s Mushroom Festival. He noticed that mushrooms were very scarce in the wild this year, and he thought the CMS might not find very many mushrooms to put on display. But they found a couple hundred species of mushrooms and fungi.
“It’s a testament to the industriousness of the volunteers,” Rowe said proudly.
Underneath the White Oak Pavilion, a plethora of mushrooms were on display. Some of them were edible and described as having a lemony taste. Other fungi were described as unedible because they had a charcoal-like taste and constitution.
There were also a number of poisonous mushrooms that looked like they came from a Super Mario Brothers video game.
Mushroom viewing was only a part of what makes the mushroom festival so great.
Various vendors provided all sorts of delicious dishes. Lane Community College served up a scrumptiously hearty sausage and mushroom ragout in a phyllo dough bowl. Holy Cow Cafe served a mushroom soup.
The Rain Forest Mushroom Company was handing out free samples of mushrooms one couldn’t ever find in the grocery store. Particularly, the sauteed Lion’s Mane mushrooms were incredible (I ended up buying a bag of them to take home).
The arboretum also had a cider press on hand and made fresh apple cider, which my wife said was “the best I ever had.”
A scarecrow contest convened on the east side of the pavilion. Festival goers had the opportunity to walk on a trail that was flanked by scarecrows and cast their votes on their favorite creations.
The scarecrows came in all shapes and sizes and realms of creativity.
One scarecrow was made up of old plastic junk, such as a computer keyboard and fork, and another featured a sea serpent (the sea serpent won best overall).
Great music filled the air and made the festival complete. The lineup included the smooth sound of Jazz Du Jour, Satori Bob’s folksy rock, and a foot-stomping performance by the masters of percussion, Samba Ja.
If you haven’t experienced The Mushroom Festival yet, you need to. I left The Mushroom Festival with a full belly, a pleased palette, a satisfied curiosity, and a resolve to attend next year’s shroom fest.
Warning: Do not eat wild mushrooms without a positive identification. Even the most experienced mushroom hunters cannot identify every mushroom. In these cases they will not risk eating the mushrooms. Serious illness and/or death may occur from ingesting a poisonous mushroom.