Making Money Out of Mushrooms
April 25th, 2016 by Dianna Troyer

Connie Green picks mushrooms for use by celebrity chefs. Photo by Sara Remington, courtesy of Viking Studios

Connie Green walks with ease in diverse worlds. As a professional forager, she hunts wild mushrooms in northern California for celebrity chefs and harvests sea beans in estuaries. She is equally at home in a kitchen, where she makes pickled sea beans that have won prestigious awards.

Connie wrote “The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes” to share her decades of expertise and love of wild foods. She helped establish a market for the Pacific Northwest’s wild mushrooms nearly 40 years ago.

“I’m probably the earliest and longest surviving mushroom foraging business in the West,” says Connie, 65, who lives in the hills near Napa and has a network of foragers throughout the Northwest and Alaska. “I’ve gathered chanterelles from the exact same trees for more than 30 years.

“Some days you hike for eight hours and come back with nothing, while other days you find a perfect patch.”

Prices vary depending on the type, their rarity and quality.

“A pound of chanterelles at the height of the season may sell for $12 to $15 a pound retail, while porcini may be worth $18 to $24 a pound,” she says, noting the highly prized matsutake—with its distinctive spicy aroma—may sell for up to $45 a pound. “That’s in an extreme year when mushrooms haven’t produced well in China or Korea due to weather, so buyers turn to the U.S. for their supply.”

To share her love of local wild mushrooms, Connie began selling them to chefs in the Bay Area in 1979. By word of mouth, demand grew. She opened Wineforest Wild Foods in 1981, adding black walnut oil, nuts, pickled products, syrups and a rub made from juniper berries to her offerings.

Her pickled sea beans were selected for a Good Food Awards earlier this year and in 2014. Her wild elderberry shrub syrup won in 2012 and 2015.

Sea beans, one of her favorite foods, grow along coastlines.

“Their stems are salty and succulent, a lot like celery, but with a hint of brine,” she says. “They can be sautéed, steamed or stir-fried.”

Connie’s appreciation for foraging was instilled as a child. She says she never tires of gathering what nature has grown.

“I invited some chefs to my home the other day and made a salad for them from dandelion greens, chickweed, oxalis and purslane,” she says. “They loved the flavors, but didn’t recognize the greens and wondered where they came from. They were amazed when I told them right here in my yard. There are so many wonderful plants around us.”