Operation Fungus Fair

Read on if you like mushrooms, mycology, Santa Cruz Mountains fungi, Fungus Fair, Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz

by Garrett McAuliffe

Jan. 8, 2014—Wild mushrooms aren’t popping up this year with their signature zeal. A parched December ushered in what looks to be California’s third dry winter in a row, this one shattering century-old records for low rainfall so far, and forest pickings have been dismal all along the Central Coast.

Read about this year's extremely dry conditions in Santa Cruz.

But that won’t stop local mushroom enthusiasts from throwing their annual extravaganza. Rain or shine, the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz will host its 40th Fungus Fair this weekend, packing the Louden Nelson Community Center downtown with a raucous, edifying tribute to the kingdom of fungi.

The dearth of specimens presented some early concerns for organizers. Rather than hold group foraging forays, as they’ve done in the past, the group sent out an SOS calling on each one of its members to make an effort, scouring the shady lowlands and danker domains of the county in search of mushrooms for display.

“If you’re looking for the most sought-after edibles—chanterelles, porcinis—they’re just not there, or you really have to hunt,” says Cassandra Fuentes, the group’s minister of local forays. Lacking some star specimens, a new theme for this year’s fair emerged.

“If the dry trend continues, we’re going to see a long-term shift in what mushrooms are available,” Fuentes says. “This year may be extreme, but it offers an educational opportunity to highlight fungi that can fruit in low-moisture conditions and to learn about some overlooked local species.”

On her own forays, Fuentes has found shelf fungi and other wood-growing mushrooms, which depend more on the moisture in the air than a douse of rain, in abundance, including edible varieties like chicken of the woods and oyster mushrooms, and the valued medicinal turkey tails.

Go on a Feb. 2 Fungus Foray at Rancho del Oso.

The fair’s re-created woodland habitat may not be as flush as in years past, with photos on display to make up for missing mushrooms. But there will be a host of brilliant speakers as always, wide-renowned and local all-stars of mycology, bringing the fungal science to life with contagious enthusiasm. Cooking demonstrations, children’s activities and mushroom-rich fare are on offer as well.

Fuentes is excited to mention two new presenters this year, one of whom is Tom Volk, a biology professor from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “He’s something of a rock star in the mycology world. He looks the part, with dyed hair and a sleeve tattoo of basidia” (a microscopic fungal structure). “He has some incredible stories.”

Watch an Encyclopedia Show interview with Tom Volk.

“And we have a new chef!” she adds. Zachary Mazi of Food is Medicine will present Kitchen Farmacy, a medical and culinary guide to edible mushrooms native to our region. Fuentes, aka DJ Critical Cass, will also be performing a mushroom-themed sound and visual set at Saturday night’s after-hours dinner and party, opening for The Soft White Sixties (tickets, $20, are still available, but won't last long).

Attendees are encouraged to come with questions and bring their own mushroom finds, with experts on hand in the exploration gallery to help with identification.

The Fortieth Annual Fungus Fair takes place Jan. 10-12. Fair hours are 3-7pm on Friday, Jan. 10, and 10am-5pm on Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 11-12, at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz. Admission is $5 Friday, $10 Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. Click here for tickets to Saturday's 40 Years of FUNgus Celebration ($20).

Schedule Highlights

3:30-4:30pm Debbie Viess (Amanitarita) discusses Amanitas: From Deadly to Delicious
4:30-5:30pm Chef Zachary Mazi of Food is Medicine demonstrates cooking for healing

10:30-11:30am Santa Cruz mycologist Christian Schwarz on Mycology for the Citizen Scientist
11am-12:30pm Professor Tom Volk presents The Tom Volk Show
1-2:30pm David Arora, FFSC founder and author of Mushrooms Demystified, presents Wheel of Fungi
6-10pm Celebration of 40 Years of FUNgus with chef Bob Wynn, winemaker Jeff Emery and music by the Soft White Sixties

11am-12:30pm Tom Volk presents The Tom Volk Show
12-1pm David Rust, Introduction to Wild and Edible Mushrooms
1-2:30pm David Arora, FFSC founder and author of Mushrooms Demystified, presents Wheel of Fungi
3-4pm Chef Jozseph Schultz of India Joze Restaurant demonstrates cooking with fungi

Click here for the full 40th Fungus Fair schedule.