Here’s How One Person Makes a Living Foraging Mushrooms

You do what? A professional forager talks about why he never has a bad day at work, but still thinks you should keep your desk job.

(Bloomberg) — Randy RileyHarvester and ForagerSt. Helens, Oregon

The job: Riley, 65, forages for a variety of edibles like stinging nettles, watercress, elderberries, wild onions, fiddlehead greens, maple buds as well as mushrooms like chanterelles, hedgehogs and black trumpets. “I pick a little of everything,” he says. Several licensed buyers, like Farm and Wild, buy from Riley and later sell to restaurants and grocery stores. Foragers aren’t legally allowed to sell directly.

Lifestyle:  Seven days a week, Riley leaves his home near Portland, Oregon around 7 a.m., and drives 60 to 90 minutes to the mountains or coast, returning at dark. “You get there, pick, go to another stop, and pick. A lot of the day is driving time,” he says. He’s also permitted to forage along some roadways.

Pay: Riley says he makes $100 to $300 a day in cash depending on what he forages.

Backstory: Riley has been foraging with his sisters and brothers since they were teenagers, a habit they haven’t lost with age. In fact, he still forages with his siblings. “Two or three of us used to pick 200 to 300 pounds a day, no problem,” he says.

How it works: Foragers are secretive about their best spots, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where foraging grounds have been restricted in recent years by permit requirements and logging companies. Riley no longer brings along friends. “I did that when I was young, and the next thing you know, your friend brings someone there with him, and that person brings someone, and suddenly there’s none left for me.” Amateurs also forage poorly, picking small plants (they’re best left to grow to full size) and pulling plants that should be cut.

Worst day at work: “There’s never a bad day. Even if you don’t find a lot, the thing about going out into the woods is that it’s so relaxing that it’s a win no matter what.” As long as he doesn’t lose money on gas, Riley is content.

Advice on escaping the corporate bubble: Don’t. Forage as a hobby. Riley laments his lack of a 401k fund. “You’re better off keeping the desk job. You’ll have a better retirement.”

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