The weather is beautiful on Central Vancouver Island this fall, but don’t tell that to Keith Hunter or the people he serves.
They’re looking for rain, soon, and lots of it.
Hunter is the driving force behind First Nations Wildcrafters in Port Alberni, which buys natural products collected from Island forests. One of the main products he sells is chanterelle mushrooms, but it’s starting to look like there could be at best a poor season for mushrooms, or maybe even no real season at all.
And every day the sky remains cloudless and the ground stays dry makes that possibility ever more real.
To date, Hunter hasn’t purchased a single chanterelle from area pickers, a far cry from the season three years ago when his first shipment went out in early August.
“That was considered early,” he said. “Last year we didn’t start until mid-September, because we were waiting on quality. When they come up early they can be dry and we sell into the produce market, so they want shelf life.”
The end of the yellow chanterelle season comes when the ground freezes and Hunter noted there has been frost in the Alberni Valley over the last couple of nights, although he stressed it’s not enough to hurt the mushrooms — yet.
“I doubt the frost penetrated to the forest floor,” he said. “The canopy tends to protect them.”
Hunter noted that while pickers can find mushrooms until early November, he cuts off his buying before that, as the mushrooms to be found tend to be either old or waterlogged, or both.
“There comes a point where the pickers are spending more time looking for the quality than the quantity and there comes a point where it doesn’t work for them anymore,” he said.
That morning frost, and the sunny weather that follows it are not good signs and he knows it. His company requires not just mushrooms, but good, high quality mushrooms, and while casual pickers may be able to hunt up enough for their limited needs, the commercial harvest — and the commercial harvesters who rely on the added income it generates, could be entirely out of luck.
“I don’t know if there will be a season for the commercial harvest,” Hunter said. “It’s like farming, I guess. Some years are good years and some not so good. This year it’s not looking good.”