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Interview with Mick Baumgartner. His Role: Mushroom hunter

1. How did you start hunting mushrooms?

I used to go out with my dad. I started 60 some years ago.

2. Is there a season for collecting mushrooms?

I start in the middle of March, and I will go to the first week in June.

3. What makes a good season ó is this a good season?

We wonít know for a little bit yet if this is a good season. The key to finding mushrooms is M plus M equals M. Thatís moisture and mosquitoes equal mushrooms. If you donít get bitten by mosquitoes, you generally wonít find mushrooms. Last year was a lousy year. I found 150. On a good year, Iíll find 1,500 to 2,000.

4. What do you do with the mushrooms?

I donít sell them ó never have. We eat them until they are coming out of our ears. I mean, literally, when you find that first batch, the whole family gorges themselves. My wife, my kids, my grandkids ó everybody loves them. Wash them, cut them in half, put them in baggies and freeze them.

5. What equipment do you use?

You have to have a stick because you might run into a dog or a snake. Thereís a lot of loose dogs out there. Thereís a lot of different bags. I like this bag ó itís just an onion sack ó because plastic bags will allow your mushrooms to spoil quicker. So, the air gets through on this one. You need long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat. I always wear a hat because there branches, sticker bushes and bramble bushes.

6. How often do you go out hunting mushrooms during the season?

Every day, well, six times because I donít go out on Sunday. Thatís the Lordís day. If itís going to be hot, Iím out at 7 in the morning until about 11, and then, Iíll go out from about 4 until dark. If Iím along the river or in a big woods, then you can stay all day.

7. How much do you normally collect in a trip?

A good trip is 500. Thatís a good trip. Iíve had days when I went out and found one, and Iíve had days I went out and found 700 of them myself. My son and I always go out. His name is Brian and we found 580 in two days once.

8. How have you increased your knowledge?

You learn by doing. Now, I have mushroom books that tell me which ones to pick and which ones not to pick. Thatís the first thing you do when you get into mushrooming because there are some that are called fake morels and they will kill you. They look like a morel but theyíre real slimy. Whereas a morel, it doesnít have that slime on it. You can eat hen of the woods, oyster mushrooms, and thereís fall mushrooms that grow in your yard, but you have to know which ones to eat also. Thereís hickory jacks. Theyíre all good but the morels are about 98 percent of what I find.

9. Are you afraid of getting poisoned?

No, not really. There are a couple kinds that I eat. Theyíre called elephant ears. You must boil them for 20 minutes in boiling water. For me, theyíre safe to eat. Some people donít know how to prepare them and they donít cook all the poison out of them and they get sick. They wonít kill you but theyíll make you very, very sick.

10. What is your advice for those who would like to collect mushrooms?

Know what youíre picking. If youíre not sure donít touch it. I literally mean donít touch it because you can transfer the poison from a bad mushroom to good ones. Buy a book and read. Buy a mushroom guide and read up, and go with somebody. Always ask permission because itís not good to get shouted at or shot at.

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