Foraging for wild food such as morel mushrooms or wild mulberries is often thought of as mostly a White hobby. But Tony Cineus of south Minneapolis wants to change that.
Cineus, 27, forages for many types of mushrooms, from the gourmet chanterelle, to the highly sought-after morel, to pyscho-active “magic mushrooms” that Cineus credits with introducing him to mycology—the study of fungal biology.
As a teenager in Florida, Cineus was able to find wild mushrooms with psilocybin (the psycho-active component of magic mushrooms) in cow pastures, and sometimes even around his neighborhood.
“I was young and into partying. I thought I was really cool,” Cineus said. His friends cultivated both gourmet and psychedelic mushrooms and taught him about how to grow fungi. Cineus credits psychedelic mushrooms with not only introducing him to mushroom hunting, but with helping him improve his mental health and realize what was really important in life.
“[Psychedelic mushrooms] helped me discover a lot about myself,” Cineus said. “I realized I had depression, I had anxiety, and it helped me deal with it and it helped me adapt. That’s one thing I’d really like to emphasize with psilocybin mushrooms: It’s not going to fix your problems. It helps you realize your problems, and that’s where it all starts.”
Psychedelic mushrooms also made Cineus change his perspective on what he was putting into his body, saying he now thinks about the impact that unhealthy foods would have on his life. His new health-conscious attitude led him into foraging for natural foods, and he encourages others to do the same.
“Black people have been foraging forever,” Cineus said “Way before there were supermarkets, everyone was foraging. Foraging was taken way more seriously.”
Being of Haitian ancestry, Cineus found mushrooms to be a way to reconnect with his heritage. He remembers a dish native to Haiti that his grandmother used to cook—Diri Djondjon, a mushroom-rice dish.
Cineus said that while it is well known in Haiti, the Djondjon mushroom has not been scientifically classified. It has no genus or species name known to science. Cineus wants to go to Haiti and study not only the Djondjon mushroom, but many other types of undescribed mushrooms on the island.
“Once my grandma passed away, it made me want to tap more into my culture because there were a lot of questions I didn’t get the chance to ask her,” Cineus said. “That’s what made me really want to tap more into Haitian mushrooms, herbs and foraging.”
Cineus started an Instagram account called @themushroomblock where he documents many of his foraging finds. He hopes the account will inspire other Black and Brown people to take to the woods and search for their own natural foods.
“As I’m getting older, I’m realizing how much of an impact my skin color makes,” Cineus said. “I’ve realized if someone who looks like me, my skin color, can see me foraging, and realize ‘This is normal. I can go out in the woods,’ that makes me super hyped. That’s ultimately my goal. I started doing Instagram foraging to really inspire people who look like me, and ultimately people in poverty, people in urban communities.”
Cineus also runs a skateboarding Instagram account and is hoping to inspire people of color to take up that hobby as well. Cineus is hoping his social media presence will ultimately grow a foraging community of BIPOC mushroom hunters in the Twin Cities, who can connect and work together.
Ajani Rowland met Cineus through skateboarding, but also quickly got into fungi. “I remember when I first met [Cineus], I knew he was really into mushrooms, and I was just starting to work at this mushroom farm, so I just asked him where to start,” Rowland said.
“And then we’ve been foraging and stuff lately. It’s just cool, because to me it’s important for Black people specifically to be out in nature and finding sustainable food, because so much of the food in Black neighborhoods is unhealthy, or healthy food is inaccessible, so the more people know how to be sustainable and rely on themselves for food, I think is pretty important.”
For people unfamiliar with the outdoors, Cineus recommends starting by hiking a trail and getting some fresh air. Cineus says going to a state park or camping in a car can be good first-time activities.
“Camping is so fun, even if it’s pulling up in a car, sleeping in a car,” Cineus said. “[My first camping trip] was so cool. Being able to see stars, and breathe fresh air, and not hear any sirens.”
For first-time foragers, Cineus recommends research before consuming wild mushrooms. Never eat anything foraged without being able to positively identify it and first knowing it is safe. “If you’re gonna pick mushrooms, pick what you’re going to eat and do it right and be thankful for what’s there,” Cineus said.
For more info, visit @themushroomblock on Instagram.