This outdoor enthusiast shares his love of foraging with his children.
The author’s son and daughter are looking for mushrooms on their property.
By Molly Kirk / DWR
Photos courtesy of Rick Blackwell
When Rick Blackwell’s children ask him to take them out for food, he is more than happy to comply. He ventures into the acres of woodland behind their Old Church, Virginia home with his 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, and they happily hunt for mushrooms together. During their time outdoors, they see deer, turkeys and all kinds of wildlife. They also frequently bring home baskets full of edible mushrooms.
Rick Blackwell passed on his love of foraging to his daughter.
âIt’s a great way to spend time with them. It’s fun to see them excited to find the right mushroom. And that’s learning about the woods, not just the mushrooms, but whatever you find, âBlackwell said. “When they ask me if they can go mushroom hunting, it’s like a permit to do something I already wanted to do, and I can do it with them.”
For Blackwell, the search for food is a time to clear his mind and escape for a bit. âOur minds are working on things all the time. You are solving a problem in your career or your life, or you are worried about something, but I am when I look for a black trumpet on the forest floor, I am pretty much only do that, âhe said. âMy mind is calm and I’m just enjoying this exercise in finding and picking mushrooms. You get some fresh air, you exercise, and it’s relaxing and disconnecting. And if you have your kids with you, even better. But it’s different from watching TV with them. It’s different to drive a car with them. There is no one else around and you are all focused on the same thing.
The gift of perpetual pursuits
Blackwell learned to forage growing up in Maine. A neighbor offered to teach Blackwell and his friends how to fly fishing. Blackwell’s parents supported him as he developed his love of the sport, but he needed to raise his own funds to buy a fly rod. The neighbor taught him and his friends another skill for fundraising.
âOne way to make money was to go pick matsutake mushrooms, and he had a buyer who would buy them from us,â Blackwell said. The neighbor informed them about the different species of mushrooms and the edible and marketable varieties. Matsutakes grow in the northeast and northwest of the Pacific. âWe were able to save enough to buy a fly rod [with the earnings]. I consider it a gift. It gave me a lifelong gift of learning to fly fishing, and then I continue to forage with my children about 30 years later.
Fly fishing and foraging were put on the back burner while Blackwell attended college and then served in the military, but once he settled into a career in finance and bought a large estate in Hanover County, he returned to the woods and the water, as well as turkey hunting. âEventually you reach a point where you come back to other things that make you happy. And I realize that I love foraging,â he said.
He was thrilled when his two children expressed their interest in learning in the woods and hopes it will help spark their interest in other outdoor hobbies. âBut even if they don’t develop other outdoor hobbies, the time I spend with them doing so now is well worth it. I don’t care if they don’t care when they’re older. I love doing it with them right now. It is a very precious time to communicate with them.
Rick Blackwell loves spending time outdoors with his kids, whatever the activity.
Of course, looking for safe edible mushrooms is a necessity. Blackwell taught his children to identify edible varieties and he still supervises them. He also set some tough and firm rules: âNumber one, you never eat mushroom in the woods,â he said. âMushrooms are eaten in the kitchen and the dining room of the house. Second, we don’t collect mushrooms that we don’t know. You don’t want to mix up a stranger with what you eat. Because even just coming in contact with a basket, you could potentially get spores that contaminate edible fungi. We therefore only collect those of whom we are very confident in what they are. And then the third rule is that before preparing a mushroom, we take out the book and identify it. I have done this a thousand times, but with the kids I make sure to go home and identify the mushrooms so they get this training.
Blackwell and his family love to cook and eat the variety of mushrooms they pick, including chanterelles, morels, black trumpets (Blackwell’s favorites “they’re plentiful and absolutely delicious”), oyster mushrooms, chicken of the woods and lion’s mane.
Rick Blackwell and his son examine their transport of black trumpets or black chanterelles.
And he notes that mushroom picking is a year-round activity. âTrumpets and chanterelles run all summer long,â Blackwell said. âWhen they stop, it’s kind of when the oysters start, and when the oysters are all gone, it’s time to start thinking about the morels. It’s a hobby unlike turkey hunting where you have a specific season and then put all your stuff away and wait until next year. It is something that you can do all the time if you have the time and space.
Make a plan
Blackwell has the luxury of several acres of his own property for food, but public lands such as National Forests and DWR Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are open to foraging. (Watch out for hunting seasons when foraging on public lands.) To search for food on a WMA, you need an access permit, a valid hunting, fishing or fishing permit. trapping in Virginia or a boat registration, or a subscription to Restore the Wild. On WMAs, berry picking and picking mushrooms and other fruits are permitted for personal use only. Gathering for commercial purposes is prohibited.
If you are new to foraging, it is advisable to seek out an experienced mushroom picker to guide and educate you. You should also have a mushroom species guide with you to help you identify edible mushrooms and poisonous or hallucinogenic look-alikes. In addition, always cook wild mushrooms before eating them.