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Hunting the Wild Mushroom

A produce-delivery company has a sideline foraging for fungi

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"You can't run a business solely off of foraging," Cavan Patterson says as his brother Tom tramps through nearby trees, hunting mushrooms. "But it's really cool."

The office environment is tough to beat, anyway. Most days, the staff of Wild Purveyors delivers produce from farms to cutting-edge restaurants like Habitat and Elements. (They also have a booth at the Strip District's Pittsburgh Public Market and -- coming soon -- a Lawrenceville storefront.) But when the weather is right, the Pattersons tramp about the woods of rural Pennsylvania with employee Wes Major, harvesting the forest's bounty with the agreement of property owners.

Job responsibilities are clear: Tom is the soft-spoken naturalist with a formal education in mycology, harvesting clusters of fungus almost before anyone else sees them. ("He's like an elf," Major jokes.) Cavan runs the business, taking cell-phone calls amid stands of oak.

Mostly, Wild Purveyors seeks out a handful of "culinary classics" like morels, chanterelles, and lion's mane. But you can't always stick to the business plan when you can't be sure what you'll be selling.

On a recent outing in Westmoreland County, for example, we have some early luck, finding $200 worth of mushrooms in an hour. But our next stop turns up nothing, despite a long trek through rocky outcroppings and across a rain-swollen creek. The uncertainty of encountering nature on its own terms is why foraging is just a sidelight to the delivery business, Cavan says. But it's also why "we'll never get away from it." www.wildpurveyors.com or 412-225-4880

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