With a bit of effort and smarts, you, too, can cash in on the yearly morel frenzy.
Morels are always in demand and always pricey. They only show up for a few short weeks each year, if they show up at all. But when the weather and the conditions are right, and if you know where to look, well, "Thar's gold in them thar hills!"
Here are a few things to consider when thinking about selling morel mushrooms this spring (assuming you are able to resist eating them all yourself).
1. Know your product.
Make sure, completely 100% sure, positively, without a doubt, bet-the-farm-sure, that you are picking morel mushrooms, genus Morchella (Morchella esculenta, is the common species scientific name).
2. Handle the morels with care.
Handle your morels with TLC (Tender Loving Care) when you harvest, when you place them in the basket, when you carry them, when you get them home, when you clean them, when you store them, and when you sell them. A clean, vigorous and unblemished morel is a thing of beauty. A dirty, cracked, ragged morel? Not so much.
It should go without saying that unless you're picking mushrooms from your own woodlot, you should get permission and/or a permit if required, and if you intend to pick commercially in any particular federal or state parks.
3. Know what the going rates are.
Morel prices vary a bit from year to year, depending on availability and demand. Check around, online, at the markets, wherever morels are sold.
4. Decide on how and to whom you want to sell.
Do you want to make a few bucks or do you want to approach this like a full-blown business? If the latter, then perhaps joining the army of commercial pickers who zero in on wildfire burn areas each year is the way to go.
If you aren't ready or willing to go whole hog yet, then perhaps selling locally or online is the route for you. Of course, a lot depends on how many pounds of morels you're able to harvest over the course of the season. If you're unsure about that then staying local is probably a good idea.
5. Approach restaurants.
Contact any local restaurants you think might be interested in including a high-end, gourmet item into their menus. Top restaurants are always looking for high quality, fresh menu ingredients from local, reliable sources. Set your price competitively with the going market rate, but don't be shy about acknowledging that your morels are extraordinary (handled with TLC).
6. Go to Farmer's Markets.
Can you rent a table and give it a go at your local farmer's market? Will you have enough morels to satisfy demand? Or maybe ask a friendly vendor who's already a regular part of the market if they'd be interested in purchasing your morels, at a reduced rate of course, in order to sell the mushrooms themselves. At least you may get an idea of whether or not the market for morels is there for you to consider next year.
There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about doing farmer's markets. There are costs involved, commitments, and possibly permits as well. Also, you'll need the standard market accouterments like bags, signage (maybe nothing more than pieces of sign board and a marker), table, etc.
7. Yard or road-side stand.
Some folks in smaller towns sell right out of their car trunks or off the back of a pickup truck. A big cardboard sign, some bags and a small cash box is all you need (unless your location - another business's parking lot, for example - requires permission and/or selling or temporary vendor permits). I know a guy who has permission from a local fishing tackle/bait shop to use a spot in their parking lot to sell his edibles. He pulls up once a week in his truck, drops the tailgate, sets out a hand-painted sign and a lawn chair, and he's open for business!
How about setting up in your own yard or driveway? Do you live in a good location to attract potential customers?
8. Online sales.
You might be surprised how many of your Facebook friends (if you're on Facebook) would be interested in purchasing morels and wild edibles from you if they know you have them. Announce that you have fresh morels and people will make contact (unless they pick their own).
Some pickers do almost all of their morel selling online via other outlets like eBay, Craigslist, Etsy, or even their own websites. Selling online via formats like these can be a complicated process and you need to be prepared for issues of packing and shipping, money transactions and methods of payment, and good follow-up and customer service, as well as any legal or permit considerations that may be required.
If this is something you're interested in, it would behoove you to spend some time studying this route. You may also decide to sell dried mushrooms, which travel better than fresh. If you do, you will of course need to become skilled in the art of properly drying techniques. You can make money online through these avenues, but there are additional factors and steps to deal with that bear consideration.
9. Commercial mushroom brokers or dealers.
If reasonably geographically accessible, you could also sell directly to vendors who in turn sell sell your mushrooms to the public. Google "morel mushroom buyers" or "morel mushroom brokers" and you should come up with someone in your area who is eager to buy your morels.
Good brokers will work with you in educating you on the right way to package and ship (overnight) if you're a fair distance away, or point you to their buying stations where you can sell directly. This can be a great route to take if you're a new seller, because you'll learn a lot about the market, about buying and selling, and about the mushrooms simply by getting to know and talking with people who do it for a living.
Hill's Morels is an example of such a buyer/seller in my region of the Midwest.
10. Tax stuff.
If you end up pursuing selling morels as anything more than a one-time thing or curiosity motivated activity - that is, if you make a few bucks by selling a few pails of morels to your neighbors - you'll probably want to think about whether or not and how you should add your morel income to your income for tax purposes. I'm not going to get into that end of things because, frankly, when the subject of taxes comes up I usually glaze over like a mushroom in the headlights.
Get out there and get pickin'!