Fans of all things fungi, foraging and sustainability will gather at the picturesque Week's Bay Plantation Oct. 20-22 for the first Gulf Coast Fungi Festival. The festival is the first of its kind on …
Fans of all things fungi, foraging and sustainability will gather at the picturesque Week's Bay Plantation Oct. 20-22 for the first Gulf Coast Fungi Festival.
The festival is the first of its kind on the Gulf Coast. Local mushroom forager, grower and educator Tanner Hammond, aka Mushroom Man Tan, is one of the two brains that spawned the idea for the festival.
Hammond first got into mushrooms during his 10 years as a chef at Dragonfly Food Bar. It was owner Doug Kerr who Hammond credits with his knowledge of cooking, smoking meats and the appreciation of quality ingredients. When Kerr gifted him a smoker, Hammond went into the woods to hunt for his own meat, but he didn't see any deer. The one thing he did see everywhere was mushrooms.
"I took pictures of all the mushrooms and came back and told my stepdad I had to be able to eat at least one of them. He laughed and told me to buy a book, so I did," Hammond said.
The book led him to seek more sources and groups, which he found, but the knowledge base was largely in north Alabama. He spent years driving north to walk and forage with experts.
He also joined the Alabama Mushroom Society where he met Allen Carroll, owner of Fungi Farm, who gave Hammond his first mushroom grow kit.
"He got me hooked on growing and showed me the ropes on foraging," Hammond said.
Once Hammond's knowledge base got to a point where he was comfortable, he began taking people on foraging walks and started offering classes. While it took a little time for the business to get off the ground, it wasn't long before they were selling out.
Hammond knew the desire to learn more about foraging and learning more about what is available around our area was here, and he also knew the resources were limited. He and Allen tossed around the idea of starting a festival in South Alabama. The closest fungi festivals that Hammond had attended were in Georgia and Tennessee.
Just three months after the initial thought, Hammond had the idea to contact Week's Bay Plantation to see if their space would be available for such a festival. It just so happened the farm was in the process of transitioning from farming to an event venue.
"All the pieces aligned over a week, and all of a sudden we were starting this festival," Hammond said. "We have mushroom cultivators, mushroom foragers, medicinal mushroom experts. We have also brought in a couple of herbalists to teach native plants and plant medicine."
The three-day festival will offer daily demonstrations, workshops, lectures and music. Food trucks will be on-site but Hammond and Southern Chili Lab will be doing cooking demos as well as selling food.
"It is mushroom-forward education, but we are also trying to promote sustainability and getting to know the land around you," Hammond said. "There will also be music for those that want to have a good time, but we are focusing on teaching and building this community."
Building the community is one of Hammond's top priorities. The larger the community grows the easier it will be for new people to get into foraging.
"There is a huge desire to learn about foraging here. When I got into this it was like pulling teeth to find people to learn from," Hammond said. "It is not an easy thing to just jump into. It takes finding someone like me to walk with you to show you the ropes and build confidence. You can hurt yourself doing it, but it is not as bad as we were all raised to think it is. There is a lot more out there you can do stuff with that can hurt you."
One thing Hammond is looking forward to is seeing the range of people who attend the Gulf Coast Fungi Festival.
"My favorite thing about the mushroom festivals I have gone to is the wide range of people that the topic of nature brings together. It is the craziest walks of life you will ever think you would see hanging out and talking to one another," Hammond said. "I am looking forward to building this festival and setting up something every year that attracts all different walks of life to hang out in one spot having the time of their life."
Tickets to the Gulf Coast Fungi Festival are on sale now and Hammond said it is best to get them early because ticket prices will increase as the date gets closer. Tickets range from $150 for a weekend pass and RV campsite to $30 for a one-day pass without parking.
With the festival's focus on sustainability, Hammond said they want to find a way to encourage festival goers to carpool. Guests can purchase their tickets without parking and ride with someone and split the parking costs. Only one parking pass is required per car but a ticket is required for each festival goer. Prices will increase by $10, Oct. 1 and again at the gate the weekend of the event.
"Personally, what I am looking forward to most is going to be the day after the festival, is the feeling of accomplishment. When I got into mushrooms, the first thing I did was go to all the mushroom festivals around and was fully engulfed in it," Hammond said. "Now, only four years later, I am starting one down here. It is a ton of stress doing this, but I just know the feeling of accomplishment at the end is going to be well worth it."
If you would like more information on the festival, to see the schedule, list of experts, and music acts or to purchase tickets, visit www.gulfcoastfungifest.com.