Economy ThreeBaskets

Published on November 5th, 2012 | by ecolocalizer


First US Wild Foods and Medicinals Market to Open in Asheville NC

Beautiful Asheville, North Carolina is known for many things. Most recently it was dubbed “Beer City USA“, and was part of the scenic filming locations for The Hunger Games. Other then Asheville’s celebrity notoriety, our region is also famous for its bountiful array of diverse foraged edibles and medicinal plants, and is now taking eating wild one step further by opening the first entirely wild crafting public market  in the United States.

Wildcrafters from around the region are planning to converge weekly  to sell edible and medicinal mushrooms, and plants; the new venture is being hosted by The Afikomen Project directed by Alan Muskat, and the location has yet to be announced.

The market will  include wild foods education and foraging classes, as well as providing a weekly community space to come meet local foraging experts to answer questions or to help identify wild mushrooms, medicinals and foods. No exact date has yet been finalized for the eventual opening of the market, but it is expected to begin in the spring, and run for nine months out of the year.

foraging lobster mushrooms in Asheville

The idea for a wilds food and medicinal market in Asheville is not new. Local wild foods celebrity, “philosophorager and stand-up comedian, Alan Muskat, as well as many other regional wild crafting venders, have wanted to bring foraging to the public in the way of a market for years. The inspiration comes from the rich local environment. Asheville sits in a relatively abundant part of the country for wild forageables. In fact, one recent report from the North Carolina State University suggests that the area has as many as seventy-five economically viable forage-able species.

Harvesting Nettles

In contrast to the abundance of wild foods, Asheville also struggles with the ability to feed its residents. Many of our citizens suffer from hunger and food insecurity. In one recent survey, one in five residents could not afford enough to eat. Alan Muskat explains:

“The problem’s not new; the figures were the same the year before. Note that the problem isn’t the food supply but paying for it. Even in Asheville, which bills itself as a Foodtopian Society, there’s no free lunch, nor enough friends, enough caring and community to keep everyone fed. What a shock.

I’ve always had far more food than I can handle. I feed myself directly from nature, where produce is always local, organic, fresh, and free. Where I shop, you get what you don’t pay for…there are mountains of food right in front of us. WNC doesn’t need to depend on the discards of corporate agribusiness; we are entirely capable of culinary if not economic self-sufficiency. Regular people can feed each other; we can feed ourselves. And we can make money doing it.

This Fall, AB Tech botany professor and mushroom enthusiast Joe Allawos is opening Mushroom Central in West Asheville. There will be a cultivation lab, farm, library, art gallery, meeting space, an Alice in Wonderland sculpture garden, and come Spring, a wild foods tailgate market. With free foraging classes to match, wild foods could become a regional green industry.

We live in a Garden of Eden. If we would only recognize our kinship with each other and all living things, we’d see that the Earth is providing more than enough for her children. Don’t slight the hand that feeds you! Like the psalm says, ‘can God prepare a table in the wilderness?’ I think the answer is clear.”


Alan Muskat with his lobster mushroom gang.

Alan Muskat, aka The Mushroom Man harvesting mushrooms with a group of children.

Muskat’s comments are most poignantly insightful. Why do some starve in the middle of such abundance, and what will it take for communities nationwide to address our expanding local food deserts? Hopefully opening a wild foods market is only one step in the ongoing process of addressing our nation’s real Hunger Games, but each small step we make is more sustainable progress. For more information about this exciting new market, Alan Muskat can be contacted at 273-8075, or through his website No Taste Like Home.


Harvesting Morels

Harvesting nettles, one of Ashevilles wild foods.

 Photos provided by Alan Muskat

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15 Responses to First US Wild Foods and Medicinals Market to Open in Asheville NC

  1. Joe Allawos says:

    Asheville fungi’s mushroom central will be opening December 1st. Come see us

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  3. Leah says:

    Great article! I live in Asheville, and I have a friend who comes to visit from Prague. She’s always astonished at the amount of edible mushrooms she sees everywhere, and no one seems to notice. In Prague and the surrounding areas everyone is taught mushroom ID and foraging from a young age. I’m so excited to read about the same thing now being supported in Asheville!

    • Brett Gustafson says:

      Many of us have been harvesting wild mushrooms for years…It just isn’t mainstream. The wild foods community here is quite good though.

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  5. Suzy says:

    Are there any plans to make these goods and services available to those in the community suffering from food scarcity? Outreach, discounts?? From what I’ve seen in the region, hand foraged mushrooms are quite expensive and these markets, stores and classes are probably going to attract well educated, well off clients. I don’t think it’s fair to conflate these efforts with reducing food sacristy unless you connect them the community members who really don’t have enough to eat….

    Also wondering what happens when suddenly there are hundreds, or perhaps thousands of newly minted foragers in Western NC. Are you working with local authorities to ensure the mushroom populations are not decimated?

    • Brett Gustafson says:

      Good point, I can see where you are coming from. The market will most likely sell to people that can afford these items which could be expensive. But this is not the only part of the project, and also not the only way to reduce food scarcity. Food and medicine is available in everyone’s backyard. The market will be an active member in educating Asheville about its natural resources free for the picking and have free resources for anyone who wants to add wild foods/meds into their lives. How many people have nettles, chickweed, plaintain growing in their yards? Probably most of us in this region. I guess this addresses food scarcity through the “teach a man to fish” principal rather than offering subsidies.

      As for your concern for over harvesting mushrooms, it is similar to over harvesting berries. The mushroom is only the fruiting body. The Fungi typically lives deep in the ground and harvesting does not affect the fungus any more than harvesting a strawberry hurts a strawberry plant. What could be a problem is if the habitat was destroyed. I imagine, with more people wildcrafting, there is a chance for a minor amount of habitat destruction, but overall with the markets intention to teach sustainable harvesting, I don’t see it as a huge risk. In general cities, developments, new roads, and clearing for farmlands damages the environment and destroys habitat much more than hunting mushrooms and wild foods/meds could ever do.

      • Suzy says:

        I don’t think there is anything wrong with opening a fancy mushroom/foraging business. Just call it what it is, rather than implying it is somehow a community service for the hungry. And work with authorities to do it responsibly. If your product is foraged from public land, you are obligated to do so. I don’t think any mycologist would think that exponentially increasing off trail traffic and foraging will have low impact on the local ecosystem… Maybe even consider supplementing with cultivated shiitakes, which do quite well in WNC.

  6. Chris R says:

    Great idear.. NOT!!! Encouraging tons of new people go out trampling in the forest and STEALING AND POACHING wild species that are growing on our public lands, than marketing them for sale to a bourgeosie public market… what UTTER BS! Sorry, but it’s BAD ENOUGH for hundreds, maybe thousands, of new people in this area going out to “wild” craft for herbs and edibles, trampling off trail and swiping any species for personal consumption. But by making up a market for this practice, you are creating an incentive for amateurs and “entrepreneurs” to dramatically increase pressures on OUR public lands. THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE! It is NOT just the taking of species, but the increasing damage and environmental impact this will have by off trail trampling that bothers me. If you can not account for where or how the “goods” you’re selling have been gotten, than it IS un ethical AND unsustainable. These forests ARE NOT an unending bounty as you suggest, but as increasing development especially is encroaching from EVERY direction on local public lands, more pressures by your “market” WILL have nothing but a negative effect on the surrounding ecosystems. This area has seen unprecedented growth, development and pressures, most especially in the last 10 to 15 years, and WE ALL really need to question how our individual usages are changing and harming these mountains before we look back with regret that we didn’t read the writing on the wall and take action to preserve what is here NOW. It’s disappearing FAST, and we’d better take stock of what’s left and posit some real questions about preservation and sustainability going forward. And also, ANY poachers I find out on public lands WILL be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law if I have anything to say about it!

    • Brett Gustafson says:

      I guess I don’t understand your argument. Are you suggesting that people should not have knowledge of wild foods? Are you suggesting that harvesting renewable resources like chickweed, nettles, dandylion and mushrooms is somehow stealing and poaching? the forest service and the parkway allow these activities, just like they allow people to harvest blueberries from graveyard fields. Regardless, all of this information is readily available with a quick google search and the tail gate market is a small part of the marketability of these natural items. Personally, I would rather people learn wildcrafting from people who care about the environment like will occur at this market, rather than from faceless online sources.

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