Iowa Morel Fest is May 9-11
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
May 9-11, hundreds of morel mushroom enthusiasts will flock to McGregor for the second annual Iowa Morel Fest, featuring guided hunts, cooking demonstrations and educational seminars from top mushroom experts.
The festival began last year after Carl Hexom, owner of Crazy Carl’s Silver Dollar Saloon, which hosts the event, and his friend, Nick Troendle, decided to take their mushroom hunting and selling to the next level.
The two had previously been certified to buy and sell mushrooms, after taking a class. During the prime hunting season, which Hexom said peaks around Mother’s Day, morel mushroom hunting is like a full-time job for him, as he spends six to 10 hours each day, six days per week, for six weeks, hunting. He’s shipped mushrooms all over the country and picked mushrooms from Illinois to Minnesota.
With all of that time invested in picking, selling and licensing, Hexom said forming the Iowa Morel Fest was a natural step, especially since the next closest event is in Muscoda, Wis.
“We didn’t have one in northeast Iowa,” he said. “We’ve got so much area to hunt. We couldn’t believe there wasn’t something.”
Hexom said he expects a good turnout this year, with visitors from as far away as Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas. Hunters will be a mixture of people—seasoned vets, people who don’t have land to hunt on and beginners looking to learn more about locating mushrooms.
Although Mother’s Day is usually the prime picking time, Hexom said Mother Nature has yet to cooperate.
“Two years in, we’ve yet to have a perfect time,” he said, explaining that, last year, just a day before the festival began, he had only three mushrooms.
“Then we ran across Thomas ‘Mushroom King’ Weipert and his guys,” Hexom recalled. “He and the guys he runs with saved our festival.”
By Friday night, they had 190 pounds of mushrooms.
This year, the “Mushroom King,” who is a head chef and top mushroom expert, will be back, offering a guided hunt Friday for a fee, as well as cooking demonstrations and a seminar throughout the weekend.
Two other experts, Brad Klein and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Professor Tom Volk, will also be on hand. Klein will offer a paid guided hunt Saturday.
Volk, along with Hexom, will lead a free guided kids hunt in Pikes Peak State Park Saturday afternoon. On Saturday, he will also give a free seminar, speaking about mushroom growth cycles, why mushrooms grow and where, along with what people should look for to find them.
“Dying red elm are your best bet around here, but they also grow under live ash and live oak,” Hexom said. “He’ll talk about all kinds of stuff. Some people think they just pop up and then they’re done growing, but that’s not true. He will have all the technical terms, all the info one could possibly want.”
Hexom said he is especially excited for the kids hunt, an idea he came up with while hunting last year.
“I thought, ‘You know, how fun would it be to have 20 kids running around?’” he said.
Keeping safety in mind, Hexom said each child must be accompanied by an adult. He chose Pikes Peak as a location so that people can stick to trails, lessening the risk of getting lost.
The weekend will also provide musical entertainment each evening, along with vendors and, of course, plenty of mushrooms. Hexom said he will be on hand to certify mushrooms so that anyone can sell their finds.
“Even if you’re not interested in the guided hunts, there are still plenty of things to do and plenty of mushrooms to go around,” Hexom said.
For more information about the Iowa Morel Fest, or a full schedule of events, visit its Facebook page.