The Vermilion River north of Wakeman in Huron County features the Augusta-Anne Olson State Nature Preserve, well known to birding enthusiasts. Immediately across a sharply meandering stretch of the river is Bellwether Farm, a 137-acre nature preserve and demonstration sustainable farm owned and operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio. It includes mature woods and steep slopes that separate the river valley from the glaciated shale surface into which it has eroded, as well as residences and farm lands, mainly on the uplands. The farm features educational programs to teach about farming, sustainability, and nature as it is seen there. Several places along the Vermilion are known as good places to look for morels. In fact the entire valley is a good candidate, though lack of access and careful secret-keeping obscure the details of the picture. Morels have frequently been found at Bellwether in the past. General foraging for morels is no longer permitted on the property, however. Instead, morels have been folded into the programs of the farm.
In keeping with their educational goals, the Farm Manager set up a morel program this spring. Saturday forays were held during late April and May to look for morels and provide participants with an introduction to mushrooms. Morels that were collected were sautéed and frozen, and augmented by collections made during the weeks by staff members. These were a feature of a gourmet celebration dinner and program, “Magnificent Mushrooms”, held on May 29 in the farm’s central building, the “Grange.” Chef Lonny Gatlin prepared pork steaks from the farm, with a gorgonzola sauce richly endowed with morels; mashed potatoes; salad with greens from the farm’s gardens; and lightly baked baby hakurei turnips, also farm-grown. Dessert was carrot-cake cupcakes, featuring farm carrots. Pete Richards, OMS board member, presented an illustrated talk on morels and how, when, and where to find them (and avoid false morels). Concern about telling people things they’d already learned on the Saturday hikes dissipated when it turned out that only one of the diners had been on one of the hikes.
OMS and Bellwether have also collaborated in the past with fall forays with the more traditional OMS focus on documenting the entire suite of fungi present at the time. The farm is a great place to look for mushrooms, and our findings fit nicely with their goal of cataloging the complete biota of the farm. There will be such a fall foray in 2021, scheduled for August 22 with a September 12 back-up date. For more on Bellwether Farm and their programs, visit www.bellwetherfarm.com/about.