Coincidentally, when I was in my hometown this past weekend, my mother-in-law, Lydia, invited me over for supper because she wanted me to try a cream sauce that she makes with wild morel mushrooms. I had no idea that she knew how to pick wild mushrooms so I immediately asked her to take me to pick some, to which she happily obliged. So the next day, we went to a nearby damp, forested area with an empty ice cream pail that I assumed we would fill within a couple of minutes. However, I didn't realize how well morels are camouflaged by leaves and sticks that are on the ground. Lydia, being the good coach that she is, said that once you train your eyes to see morels, you'll be able to find lots. I maybe found four mushrooms over the hour and a half that we were out (Lydia probably found close to thirty) but it was the most fun I've had in a long time. It's like a big outdoor treasure hunt with a big delicious (and healthy) pay-off!
Afterwards, I began thinking about how beneficial wild mushroom picking could be for students and how a teacher could create a whole unit (complete with cross curricular connections) based on it. If a teacher had his or her students pick morels (or any other edible wild mushrooms) and then prepare them for their lunch, I believe the students would have a greater appreciation for food and, possibly, waste less food because they had to work for it. Teachers could also have students research and the nutritional value of morel mushrooms, which corresponds to certain health and literacy outcomes, such as the ability to make healthy and informed choices and the ability to use different mediums/sources in their research (i.e. books, personal interviews, the internet, etc.) A teacher could also relate mushroom picking to various social studies topics like the history of agriculture and how mass production has affected our society. Wild mushroom picking could also spark lessons and discussions about certain aspects of the science curriculum (i.e. the study of plants and growth), as well as First Nations ways of knowing (i.e. how plants can be used for healing, how First Nations people have an appreciation for all living things, how First Nations people believe that everything follows a cyclical pattern - every spring you return to the same place to pick wild mushrooms, etc.)
From this experience I have learned that you can get so much more out of wild mushroom picking than just a rich, tasty treat. If morel picking is something you would like to try with your students, then here's a good site that has more info about where and how to find morels. I've included a few pictures of the ones I picked on the weekend so you can see exactly what you're looking for. And if you would like the recipe for that morel mushroom cream sauce, send me an email or a tweet :)