For the mycologically agnostic, you may be surprised to hear just how popular Whistler’s homegrown mushroom festival has become.
Marking its 21st edition this year on Oct. 13 and 14, the annual celebration of everyone’s favourite fungi counted 22 experts this year, a record amount, along with sold-out mushroom walks and panelist talks, and upwards of 150 different mushroom species identified as part of Saturday’s mushroom display.
As is usually the case, the hundreds of attendees who took part in the festival’s two days were a diverse bunch.
“It’s always amazing how mushrooms are generally getting more popular in our culture, and it’s an amazing event in that it brings a complete range in ages. It’s young kids right out to elders, and from all walks of life and education levels and general interest. It’s a really interesting cross-section of society,” said Whistler Naturalists co-founder and event co-organizer Bob Brett.
Brett, a trained biologist, links the recent surge in mushrooms’ popularity to a combination of factors, including the growth of foraging, and with it, the market value of delicacy species like pine mushrooms; as well as a deeper understanding of mycological networks and their importance to local ecosystems.
“I would say there are more foragers in the woods than ever for two reasons: the paid part of it, and I’m glad people are making a living, but it’s also due to the reason why we’re doing this in the first place: to have people appreciate mushrooms and nature more,” he explained. “When you’re in the woods looking at or for mushrooms, you are part of a bigger system … and events like this are a way to introduce people to a really fun thing that can be a lifelong passion—because it’s not just pine mushrooms in the woods.”
The Whistler Naturalists are expanding their efforts to introduce a love of mushrooms early to local students, with expert presentations made to 29 different classes this year at Spring Creek, Myrtle Philip, École La Passerelle and, for the second time, at the Xet’ólacw Community School in Mount Currie.
“It’s amazing and the kids remember what they learned from the year before. They’ve had it for so long, we just keep building on their knowledge,” said the Whistler Naturalists’ Kristina Swerhun, who co-organized the festival. “It’s amazing how much these kids take in. They remember mycelium, spores, and gills, they know the parts of the mushroom. There are a few presenters that have got handmade thank you letters from the kids. It seems to be a highlight.”
A key emphasis for Fungus Among Us moving forward will be involving more First Nations mushroom experts, noted Swerhun.
To learn more, visit whistlernaturalists.ca/fungus-among-us-mushroom-festival.