Forager Alan Muskat

Forager Alan MuskatQ&A with FORAGER ALAN MUSKAT




What prepared you to be a farmer?
I don’t farm. I forage, partly because I am unprepared to farm. Farming requires commitment, i.e., quite literally, putting down roots. And I’m afraid of commitment. But foraging can be a commitment to “staying present” because foragers can’t be choosers: you have to take what you can get, i.e., “love the one you’re with.”
What is a unique feature and how many acres do you farm?
I forage mostly within a 45-minute radius of Asheville, which amounts to about four million acres. The unique feature of this “farm” is that it is the most biodiverse northern temperate ecosystem in the world.
Tell us about your main crops and how you chose the varieties.
I harvest mainly 5-7 plants and mushrooms, respectively. For mushrooms, these are: morels, lobster mushrooms,  chicken of the woods,  hen of the woods (a.k.a., maiitake),  chanterelles,  milk caps (Lactarius corrugis/volemus),  and honey mushrooms. For plants, these are dandelion, violet, nettle, chickweed, lambs quarter, burdock, and purslane.  I pick these the most often because they are the most common.
How much of food goes to farmers markets and or restaurants?
I no longer sell commercially. For 18 years, I sold exclusively to restaurants. This season I opened a booth at a farmers market and it is being taken over by my interns.
What challenges do you have as a farmer?
As a forager, a.k.a., scavenger, I am challenged to stay focused: I don’t always want something just because it’s free. That includes apparent business opportunities and girlfriends. I am also challenged to collaborate with others, sharing the wealth as well as the work involved.
Where do you see farming in the future?
Farming in the future must return to permaculture: working with, not against, nature, by growing what already thrives in an area, i.e., what’s wild. Agriculture is well documented as having been the most destructive thing humanity has ever done to the planet. It’s also the most unhealthy thing we have done to ourselves. Most of what we eat is not food; it’s entertainment. Carbs, for example, are drugs, and have equally damaging effects on our bodies and the environment. It’s not that wild food is good for you; it’s that anything but wild food is bad for you.
Where would be your ideal location for your last supper, what would be your meal & music and who would join you ?
I can’t think of a place other than home. I’d enjoy the foods of my Cuban-Jewish youth: chicken, plantains, beans & rice, stewed cow’s tongue, flan, and blintzes.  I’d play mid-70′s Van Morrision before dinner,  Getz and Gilberto during, and early 70′s Stevie Wonder after. I’d eat with my college roommate & girlfriend, my current housemate & girlfriend,  and a few other close friends.

Alan Muskat, philosoforager, stand-up mycomedian, and epicure of the obscure, has been going “out to eat” for nearly twenty years. He founded the first “forage-to-table” program in the United States and the first wild foods market in North America. Author of Wild Mushrooms: A Taste of Enchantment, he has popped up on The Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, The History Channel, PBS, CBS, and in The New Yorker, Southern Living, and Country Living. He’s even preached on Voice of America, ardently urging the masses to sample rather than trample the toadstools.

Muskat really knows how to pick ’em. For close to two decades, he sold hundreds of pounds of wild foods a year to over fifty restaurants and hotels, including The Biltmore Estate, Lantern, and The Grove Park Inn. Last fall, he took Andrew Weil out to harvest his first “hen of the woods.” He has taught thousands and hasn’t lost a customer yet.

In 2007, Alan co-founded The REAL Center, a school for relationship skills and natural living. He is also on the advisory board for OM Sanctuary, Asheville’s new holistic retreat center.  Author of The Haggadah Vita, Alan has led wild food Passover seder banquets for over twenty years. “Wild foods,” says Alan, “are a way of feeling at home in the world, i.e., that we are continually provided for and never alone.” Finally, his mother would like you to know that he graduated from Princeton.

With humor, warm-heartedness, and panache, Alan awakens nature’s wayward offspring to the beauty and bounty of their bioregion. Ask anyone who knows The Mushroom Man: when it comes to bringing out the fun in fungi, he’s the champignon.

Alan Muskat can be reached at

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