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Morel season arrives in time for festival

Morel season arrives in time for festival

April 24th, 2018 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

Shawn Berry, owner of Jefferson City-based American Mushroom Products, will supply some 400 pounds of morels for this year's Morels and Microbrews festival. He plans on foraging the big yellow kind that grow in Missouri, as well as smaller varieties from the Pacific Northwest.

Photo by Helen Wilbers /News Tribune.

The annual Morels & Microbrews Festival is Saturday in Fulton, and morel enthusiasts doubtless have a close eye on the weather.

As anyone who loves the mushrooms knows, they're notoriously finicky about everything from soil temperature to precipitation. The typical morel season may last only a few weeks.

Not to worry, according to this year's festival supplier, Shawn Berry. The owner of American Mushroom Products just finished a 72-hour intense buying-and-hunting spree and believes he'll be able to meet this year's 400-pound goal.

"We've got them," Berry said Monday. "In this industry, if you don't have a plan A, plan B and plan C, you've pre-qualified yourself for failure."

His travels have taken him everywhere from Oklahoma to Kansas in search of the perfect mushrooms. He has a team out in Portland picking, as well. Berry also has land leases with many landowners across the state, which he uses to forage. He estimates between himself and his crew members, the team will have traveled some 1,800 miles by Saturday.

And his task has not been an easy one, he said.

"This year, we're just starting," Berry said. "I had two baby morels in my yard when I headed out."

For the last five years, mushroom hunters have been suffering under what Berry calls a "super-drought." Seasons have started early and dried up fast.

"You could've gone out the day after the morel festival and all the mushrooms would already be gone," he said. "This is actually more like a typical morel season."

Thanks to late snows, sunlight is the main factor in spotting morels this year.

"Right now, the hottest thing is finding out what areas warm up first, whether they'd be top of the hills or next to fields," Berry explained. "This year, direction doesn't matter (due to storms blowing rain around). You could be 100 feet away from a patch up a hill and find nothing because it's shaded."

He thinks last weekend's rain will touch off a major boom in Central Missouri.

"Give it the next three to four days with the sun," he added. "They're going to be in places where you wouldn't expect seeing them, like the median at McDonald's."

Last year's unfortunate monsoon is not on the horizon this weekend, according to the Weather Channel. Those meteorologists are calling for sunshine Saturday with a high temperature of 72 degrees and a gentle, 8 mph winds.

Much like morel season, Morels & Microbrews doesn't last long. The event opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, and fried morels can be purchased by the quarter-pound. Beer tasting begins at noon, with $20 purchasing a commemorative glass from which to sip. At 3 p.m. on the Callaway County Courthouse lawn, children ages 8 and under can hunt mushrooms.

At 4 p.m., tasting and fried morel sales end and a live auction of raw morels begins at the Brick District Playhouse. Following the auction is live music until 8 p.m. The Burney Sisters are the opening act. For more information, visit morelsandmicrobrews.com.

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