Students forage in SF park for weekend Fungus Fair

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Late fall is the time for the fleshy bodies of fungi to find their way to the moist, earthy surface.

This time of year, mushroom specialist and biology teacher JR Blair can be found at McClaren Park with students from San Francisco State University collecting hundreds of species of mushrooms for the much-anticipated Fungus Fair (check Caitlin Donohue's piece on last year's fair here). 

“All of the mushrooms are collected the Friday before the fair,” Blair said. ”Between 100 and 200 species of mushrooms are sorted and brought to (the exhibit) by Friday night.”

Blair was featured on KQED’s video series Science on the Spot, foraging around McClaren Park sniffing, tasting, and delicately handling the mushrooms to identify the species.

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” said Blair in the Quest video. “You hear squeals of delight off in the woods.”

The collected mushrooms are spread over several tables and meticulously labeled, providing an elaborate mushroom gallery of all shapes, sizes, colors and smells.

The Fungus Fair has been an annual event for 41 years with exhibits that show mushroom hunters how to identify edible species and workshops that demonstrate how to grow your own on pieces of wet newspaper.

Around 200 volunteers, comprised of UC Berkeley and SF State students, help to gather mushrooms and run the different exhibit stations. The fair includes live cooking demonstrations, informational exhibits on poisonous, hallucinogenic, medicinal, and microscopic mushrooms and family-friendly workshops on how to make spore prints.

“I think everyone should go to the fungus fair,” said volunteer coordinator Stephanie Wright. “But I’m biased.”

This is Wright’s fourth year helping out with the Fungus Fair and her job wrangling college students is not one she takes lightly. An incredible amount of planning goes into the fair each year, but the rewards of the fair are worth it to those dedicated to spreading the mushroom love.

“Foraging for mushrooms puts me in touch with nature, slows me down,” said mushroom enthusiast and Fungus Fair coordinator Lisa Gorman. “I’m stopping, breathing more deeply and observing. The process compels me to attend to a world and kingdom other than my own.”

The fair takes place Dec. 3 and 4 at the Lawrence Hall of Science in the Oakland Hills from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and costs $15 at the door. For more information you can visit the Mycological Society of San Francisco website or the museum event site.