Working: Dan Heydon

By Patrisha McLean | Mar 22, 2009

For Dan Heydon, saying goodbye to his wife for four months a year is the worst part of his job. The best? “I don’t have to put up with anybody else’s crap.”

Mushrooms are his job, and have been for 20 years. For that long, he and his wife, Candice, have run the Oyster Creek Farm and Mushroom Company, purveyors of fresh and dried gourmet mushrooms, from their home in Damariscotta.

The couple part in the winter so that Candice can travel the California mushroom circuit at a time when Maine’s mushroom territory is covered by snow. That’s one way they are able to survive in Maine on mushroom proceeds.

Here are some other ways: Manning a booth at farmers markets in Damariscotta, Bath, Boothbay and Camden; supplying 23 Whole Foods stores in New England through a distributor and many upscale restaurants in Maine through personal delivery; exporting to Japan 10,000 pounds a year of the matsutake variety; and creating and marketing growing kits (sterilized, wooden furniture dowels inoculated with the mushroom spawn), tasty dips, vinaigrette and flavored oils as well as black trumpet, Maine wild mix and porcini powder.

“A little over six tons of mushrooms,” are what Dan figures they go through every year. What they don’t sell in the summer, they dry.

Collection comes courtesy of 100 foragers fanned out across the state. Dan said that because “pickers will show up and want to sell their mushrooms and expect someone to be here, we don’t go out in the woods as much as we used to.”

Oyster Creek sells about a dozen varieties of mushrooms. Ones he avoids include “anything that has a lookalike that’s poisonous,” aborted entaloma (“even people who know what to do with mushrooms wouldn't know what to do with that one”) and shaggy mane (“its shelf life is so poor you'd have to sell them the same day you pick them").

Best sellers are chanterelles and morels. “Hens are good too.” Not surprisingly, Dan doesn’t sell, or eat, the button mushrooms found in the supermarket. “They don’t have much taste, and I know how they grow. They use a lot of chemicals.”

It all started when Candice read a newspaper article about growing mushrooms on oak, at the exact time the couple were cutting down oak trees on their land to make room for a house. Dan wasn’t as partial to mushrooms as he is now, but being a lifelong gardener the growing aspect appealed to him.

“Dan, Dan, the mushroom man,” he said, repeating the rhyme he’s heard ever since then. His first career -– for 14 years -- was installing and repairing cable TV. “Used to be Dan, Dan the cable man,” he said with a smile. “It's the name Dan. You can be any kind of man."

You can find Dan during the winter on alternate Saturdays at farmers markets in Bath and the Knox Mill in Camden. You can also order his products online through his Web site, oystercreekmushrooms.com.
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