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for people who care about the West

Inside the transient world of mushroom pickers

People spend months scouring forest floors for money-making fungi in the Pacific Northwest.

 

In spring and fall, the mountain forests that stretch from Alaska to California are filled with mushroom hunters, known as “pickers.” Some are hobbyists, but others make a living from tracking down the pricey fungi. The commercial pickers follow traces to particular kinds of mushrooms, often tied to the shifts the landscape is undergoing. For example, wildfire scars can provide rich ground for morels. Commercial picking is governed by strict rules, which some say are often intended to benefit buyers rather than support a sustainable harvest. But the fungi can also offer a lucrative trade for pickers, who are often immigrants from Laos or Cambodia or members of the persecuted Hmong minority from those countries.

As a result, the practice has spawned an ephemeral economy in some parts of the Pacific Northwest, with pickers and buyers setting up shop in small towns near national forest land, where the mushrooms grow. Kate Schimel

Olivier Matthon is the author of Under the Radar: Notes from the Wild Mushroom Trade. He's been picking mushrooms commercially and taking photographs of migrant pickers since 2012.

*Subjects in the photographs requested to only be identified by their first names.