Foray Newfoundland & Labrador History 2003-2012.
The first foray was organized in 2003 by Andrus and Maria Voitk, with the help of Judy and Barry May, Anne Marceau and Michael Burzynski, and others. The Voitks, former members of the Mycological Society of Toronto, had planned to join the local Corner Brook mushroom club, but found there was none. However, the local Humber Natural History Society gladly incorporated mushrooming activities into its program.
Andrus often corresponded on matters mycological with Anu Kollom, a mycologist relative in Estonia, and invited her to visit. She accepted, and came with three other faculty members. The first Foray was thus born, with four professional mycologists, supplemented with additional identifiers Rod Tulloss and Vello Soots. The Voitks asked Pat Burchell and Vello Soots of the Mycological Society of Toronto to advise and help. Vello had been president and foray organizer of MST over 10 years, so organizing a foray in Newfoundland and Labrador posed no problem. He and Pat came a week in advance to help set it up and running. Subsequent forays were organized according to their methods and teachings with great success.
Partners & Finances
Because so many people from away were interested in NL mushrooms, Andrus approached the Minister of Tourism and Culture for partnership. At the time, the Division of Parks and Natural Areas belonged to that Ministry, and the Minister asked his Department to provide the required support. From then on, Parks has remained the major partner, and its presence made it easier to attract others. Good partners, who have remained loyal throughout the years, have enabled successful forays which have added significantly to the mycological knowledge base, as well as participant enjoyment. The Foray’s financing has been set up so that participants pay for direct expenses and the partners support the scientific aspect.
Finding professional identifiers in the early years relied on personal persuasion coupled to the exotic attraction of our remote and rugged province. As word spread in the relatively small mycological community, and as our Reports and other communications showed the more serious nature of our work, finding professionals willing to spend money to travel here became progressively easier. In 2003, only a species list was developed. From 2004 on, collections were photographed and voucher specimens kept in support of our database. The annual forays are rotated through different areas of our province that can support the infrastructure needs. Often smaller forays are arranged in remoter areas unable to support the whole group.
The data accumulated helped Andrus Voitk to put together the first field guide to mushrooms of the province. The Foray has just finished the selection process for a poster of our best edible mushrooms. At the moment we are preparing a brief to the Government to name a provincial mushroom.
The accumulation of a professionally identified collection and continued contacts with academic mycologists active in research has led to increased use of our material in cooperative investigations. The resulting publications help us know our local mushrooms, but in most cases have also become of interest to the world at large. At the moment we are cooperating in around 20 investigative projects with various scientists internationally, and can only expect this involvement to increase.
The early organization was done by the Voitks with several helpers, as part of the activities of the Humber Natural History Society. However, the nature of the foray began to differ from that of its parent organization. The HNHS was a regional organization with a low membership fee and stable small bank balance. The foray became provincial in nature, with participants and organizers from across the province. Its participation fee was significant, reflecting food and accommodation costs, and the funds that flowed through the foray budget were 20-30 times the HNHS stable balance. The Foray became an independent organization, the name Foray Newfoundland & Labrador suggested by Judy May. For the continuation of organized forays in our province, a Board of Directors was assembled in April, 2008, and the not-for-profit organization was incorporated as MUSHROOM FORAY NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR INC, September 2, 2008.
A web site was created in 2008 and in 2010 an electronic newsletter, Omphalina, was added. The latter began as a vehicle for dissemination of foray related information to registered participants, but has since evolved to a journal of mycological interest, showcasing, among other mushroom lore, many of the investigative projects in which FNL cooperates with international experts. It is e-mailed to members, but available to the public free of charge from the website. We support the free dissemination of information, and all our Foray Reports as well as Species Lists are also freely available to the public form our website. Elsewhere on the website is a list of published material arising from Foray material or activity, or by Foray members.
FNL has acquired dryers, display signs, two-way radios, GPS units, microscope kits and other equipment for conducting forays. So far it has borrowed microscopes, books, computers and projection equipment. With greater future support, FNL also hopes to acquire these items in order to function as an independent professional organization.
Thus, since the first foray in 2003, the organization has developed a secure footing in organization, finances, scientific support, communications, and has begun a slow path to acquisition of equipment. All of this is justified and has been possible only because of the support of its members. Interest in mushrooming among the population of Newfoundland and Labrador is on the rise; each year there are more foray registrants and the last three years have had a waiting list. Each year there is a 40% previous participant return, and 30% newcomer participation. The Foray is supplying a need among the population, and the scientific community.
Realizing that lichens are fungi, their study has been added to the scope of study, with a lichenologist on the Foray faculty. However, since collections have different implications for lichenized fungi, we have not collected them, until the problem with the future of the collection has been solved (see below).
The Foray is now the work of many.
Every foray is exciting and leaves its own memories. However, for us, none will ever be as electrifying and exciting as the first foray in 2003. Another year, revealed courage under duress: all projection equipment failed, as Faye Murrin launched into a slide-based presentation, and soldiered on for her hour’s talk. Third on our list: the infamous three hour round table discussion on species concept by several authorities. Andrus had been warned against this undertaking, but refused to take advice; it utterly bombed, as predicted. After the break, we were sure not a soul would return, and from overheard comments knew that the subject matter had left the audience untouched. However, we were very moved by the innate courtesy and kindness of our participants, when every last one trooped back in! Afterwards, many thanked Andrus for his efforts to organize the discussion.
Amid all the positive factors outlined, FNL has a major problem to solve in the immediate future. The foray collection has become very large. When started, it was housed temporarily in the Herbarium of Gros Morne National Park. Now it fills the entire space and no new space is available. We have met with the administrators of the Provincial Museum at The Rooms, whose mandate includes the archiving of significant collections of our natural heritage. To our chagrin, they inform us that they lack resources to accept, access, archive, and tend this valuable collection of professionally identified, photographed and data-based fungi of our province. At this time, no realistic alternative is available in the province. The FNL Directors do not want the collection to leave the province. Unless they find a solution within this year, they may have to take up one of three off-island museum-offers to house this valuable collection. This problem weighs heavily on the FNL Board; one can only hope that the provincial powers-to-be will prove wise enough soon enough to keep their mycological heritage in the province.
Andrus & Maria Voitk, Feb 6, 2012.