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Mushroom Festival aims to mix fun and fungi

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Professional mushroom foragers lead a group of visitors on a hunt in Rolater Park during the 2017 Heritage Days festival in Cave Spring. Interest in the booth led to a stand-alone Georgia Mushroom Festival, set for Sept. 29. / Contributed

The Georgia Mushroom Festival, set for Sept. 29 in Cave Spring, will bring together mycologists, herbalists, artisans and craftspeople from around the southeast.

Organizer Claudia Littrell said in addition to lectures, demonstrations and foraging hikes, there will be a cooking contest — "for fun" — pony rides, music and a birds of prey show.

"The whole thing is free to the public, because we want to educate," she said. "We'll have people to answer all kind of questions."

A mini-festival held last year during the city's Heritage Days weekend garnered so much interest that Littrell put together a stand-alone event. Activities, including the Mushroom Market, start at 9 a.m. in Rolater Park.

Littrell said growers and gourmet artisans will be selling fresh and dried mushrooms, medicinal tinctures, teas, artwork and even grow-your-own kits. Anyone selling wild mushrooms, or using them in the cooking competition, must have a valid state mushroom food safety and sales permit.

"Joshua Abshire, owner of Fungi Alumni in Macon, will bring some of his lion's mane kits to sell," Littrell said. "They're huge, beautiful mushrooms that are said to protect against Parkinson's and they're very easy to grow. The kits make awesome presents."

Darryl Patton, known as The Southern Herbalist, is coming from Gadsden, Alabama, to share his foraging expertise. Two South Carolina-based businesses, MycoSymbiotics in Asheville and Mushroom Mountain Farm in Easley, also have signed up.

Dr. Cornelia Cho, a pediatrician and president of the Mushroom Club of Georgia, will be on hand with other members to introduce the line-up of speakers and events. Among the lecture topics are psychedelic mushrooms, medicinal Reishi mushrooms, scientific findings from the North American Mycoflora Project and growing workshops.

A mushroom identification table will be set up and, along with six falconers, there will be "some snake guys" to familiarize foragers with what they may encounter in the wild.

"I've only seen two in all the years I've been hunting, though," Littrell noted. "They like to get out of the way."

Nancy Fricks and her Downtown Development Authority team will be among the cooking contest competitors with mushroom-flavored hot dogs. There's also a list of chefs with more mushroom experience, including contest organizer Olga Cotter, who competed last month at MushFest in Telluride, Colorado.

Vendors run the gamut from painters and jewelry designers to photographers, glassblowers and salve-makers.

"We'd love to have more vendors," Littrell said. "It's not too late to sign up."

Booth spaces are going for $40 each. More information and an application form is posted on the website GeorgiaMushroomFestival.com.

If all goes well, Littrell said — and so far, so good — plans are to make the festival an annual two-day event in Cave Spring.