Thaddeus Lenover kisses his mushroom picking partner Teagan Evans on the cheek after a rainy day out in the woods harvesting wild mushrooms. (Nora O'Malley photo)

West Coast mushroom pickers say it’s less busy this year

COVID-19 reduces interest in what has otherwise been a good season

Mushroom picking partners Thaddeus Lenover and Teagan Evans spent the better part of a week this month deep in the backwoods harvesting chanterelles.

They arrived at Butch’s Depot, a mushroom buying station near the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction, just before dusk with big smiles and rain soaked hair. Butch Sheaves promptly offered them a Lucky Lager and welcomes them over to a crackling fire.

“Butch takes care of his pickers,” Evans says.

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By this point, she has changed out of her rain gear and gumboots into a long cotton skirt. Lenover and Evans picked about 400-pounds of chanterelles over the course of five days. Earning $5 per pound, the couple will head back to their farm on the Lower Mainland with a quick $2,000 in their pocket for five days work.

“The first time I went picking, I made about $60,” recalls Lenover, adding that he also remembers someone else making $400 that same day.

Flash-forward 14 years and the professional picker fondly recites some of his favourite spots.

“JD, Lions Den, Tourist Spot, Yellow Diamond, Staghorne… Now, after 14 years of walking around the bush, I’m not looking for them, I’m harvesting,” he says, adding that he tries to attack each day with a plan.

The mushroom picking season starts in August and can last well into November and even December, Lenover notes.

Mushroom buyer Butch says the season started out slow.

“I anticipate it’s going to be a longer season. We’re just starting our third flush,” Butch says.

He goes on to explain that after a baby mushroom is spotted it takes about 10 days to grow to a harvestable size. On the West Coast, there can be up to eight flushes.

Even the mushroom picking industry couldn’t escape the wrath of Covid-19.

“That COVID really buggered us up this year,” Butch says.

In past seasons, he says he has 20 or so pickers selling to him, while this summer he’s only had a handful of local pickers come by.

“There’s been no French people this year,” he says. “And a lot of the professional pickers went to Campbell River.”

His mushroom weigh station is now equipped with COVID-19 safety precautions like hand sanitizer and face masks.

Even with the Kennedy watershed backroads being flooded by van and car campers, Lenover and Evans confirmed the drop in mushroom pickers this year.

“There are not so many people this year, but it’s been a great season,” said Lenover.

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Mushroom buyer Butch Sheaves eyes a lovely chanterelle from inside his weigh station near the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction.

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