For a lesson in making a living from a mishmash of interests, look no further than James>"/>
The following story was contributed by Megan Hill.
Nowak is a Seattle glass artist and a mushroom grower and forager. He started blowing glass in the mid-1980s and has sold cultivated and foraged mushrooms commercially since 2007 through his company, Terra Fleurs.
He grew up foraging for wild mushrooms in the Northwest with his family.
"It's a family thing, a Polish thing," Nowak says. "That's what they do on the weekends with their parents. These are family forays."
This time of year, truffles are all the rage. Nowak hunts with his dog, Augustus Ignacio, who is trained to sniff out these prized shrooms. Augustus is an Italian water dog, a breed popular with truffle foragers, but his goal isn't to help his owner; he wants to make a snack of the pricey mushrooms, and Nowak has to rescue them from Augustus' eager jaws.
"When he finds a truffle he goes ballistic," Nowak says. "It's a big scene. Fortunately we're in the woods so no one can see us because it's kind of ridiculous."
Mushroom foraging is notoriously secretive, and hunters tend to be very protective of their favorite spots when it comes to competition. Nowak has a different point of view. Part of his business includes half- and full-day guided mushroom tours, where he shows newbies where to hunt and how to identify different varieties. He also shares his hunting spots with friends.
"My philosophy is I'm willing to share places with other people as long as they are willing to share theirs with me. I would be bummed out if I showed someone and they went back without me or took someone else," he says. These locations may be in remote forests, or in urban parks within view of playgrounds.
Sharing the truffle spots are out of the question, though. Nowak recently signed a confidentiality agreement with three other foragers to keep their mushroom intel to themselves. With truffles becoming popular in Washington, these guys don't want any more competition. Nowak's truffles command $50 an ounce.
Nowak's cultivated mushrooms are a different story. He grows several varieties, including some really weird stuff like Lion's Mane, which "looks like a giant puffball, a gerbil kind of thing," he says; Pioppino, a nutty variety similar to Porcini; the delicately flavored Wood Ear; plus more predictable oysters and shiitakes. He calls his growing operation an "interurban farming thing" and it's framed another philosophy--this one regarding local food systems.
"My business has a really small carbon footprint. It represents what's possible as far as growing for the community within the community," he says. His cultivated mushrooms need minimal inputs apart from alder sawdust, a byproduct that would otherwise go to landfills, and he grows everything at his Capitol Hill home.
I asked the farmer what his favorite shroom is, half expecting his answer to include a really bizarre variety--or perhaps something as psychedelic as his glass art.
"Whatever's for dinner," he says, "is my favorite."
You can find Nowak's dried and fresh mushrooms, plus soup mixes, at the West Seattle Farmer's Market on Saturdays year round.