An Interview with Mushroom Master Ken Zinkand

Mushroom enthusiast and teacher, Ken Zinkand became interested in fungi long before he learned the extensive benefits of these delicious morsels. Scientists have been studying the beloved maitake mushroom for years. Several studies have even proved this mushroom’s ability to fight cancer naturally.

Recently, Ken held a mushroom growing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The school is a not-for-profit organization located in Brasstown, North Carolina. They offer a large variety of classes that celebrate mountain life including community events, dancing, blacksmithing, hiking, concerts, woodworking, nature knowledge, and much more. Keep an eye out; sign up early when the next mushroom growing class is offered again!


Mushroom Master, Ken Zinkand

Home is Where the Mushrooms Grow

Ken was about five years old when his interest in mushrooms emerged. Raised in Queens, New York, Ken’s mother would regularly take him to the park, and as they walked around, he would always see people picking mushrooms from the dewy grass. “Mom, they know about the mushrooms, let me talk to them!” He would plead excitedly; he wanted to know more about the mushrooms and which ones he could eat. His mother would tell him the same thing every time, “Stay away from the mushrooms!” Later, Ken learned that the people he saw picking mushrooms in the park were first-generation immigrants from Italy. This heritage is familiar with foraging for wild mushrooms for food.

Who knew that decades later Ken would have studied with world renown mycologist Paul Stamets and Gary Lincoff, former president of the North American Mycological Association. Ken’s knowledge would eventually lead him to grow pounds of mushrooms each year successfully. Because of his success, he provides gourmet mushrooms to leading restaurants in Atlanta. And he’s able to make his own mushroom medicine. Ken also teaches students in the Appalachian Mountains how to grow mushrooms, and is an active participant in Atlanta’s Mushroom Club, giving speeches to educate others about fungi.

Ken Zinkand’s gourmet mushrooms
are used in top Atlanta restaurants

The Extraordinary Benefits of Mushrooms

So, why should you be interested in learning how to grow mushrooms at home?

Ken says, “You can eat your way into good health.” Not only are mushrooms delicious, is it reasonably easy to grow your own gourmet mushrooms like oyster and shiitake. He mentions that growing edible mushrooms and foraging for wild mushrooms is also a great way to interact with nature, and the health and environmental benefits are simply phenomenal.

There have been several medicines made from mushrooms over the years that combat anything from brain fog and colds to high cholesterol and malignant tumors. Scientific studies have even shown that maitake mushrooms hinder the spreading of cancer and increase beneficial immune response. Luckily for Appalachian Mountain folk, like morels, maitake is readily available within the woods, if you know where to look!

Ken mentions that because the beneficial compounds in mushrooms are extractable in water, it is very easy to make your own natural medicine from teas and infusions.

Just as mushrooms have a powerful impact on the body, they do so in nature as well. Ken mentions that after the disaster of Chernobyl, the very first organic material to reappear was a type of fungus. This particular fungus found on the devastated grounds of Chernobyl was breaking down the nuclear waste in the earth. It turns out that many mushrooms have similar beneficial capabilities. Scientists recently discovered a fungus in Brazil that can break down plastic waste. Mushrooms play a huge role in our environment and ecosystem, and this is yet another reason why Ken is so excited about fungi and wants to share this knowledge with others.

Check out one of Ken’s classes, and learn
to grow mushrooms in your own backyard!

Extended Learning in the Kingdom of Fungi

Ken Zinkand recently appeared on the Weather Channel’s TV series “SOS: How to Survive,” meeting with show host Creek Stewart in the woods to find chanterelles and discuss safe foraging for wild mushrooms. Just as Creek mentions himself, many people have a fear of picking wild mushrooms.  Appalachian mountain folk and visitors alike have heard horror stories of picking the wrong mushroom while foraging, and that some mushrooms may even cause death. Ken says, “When in doubt, don’t eat it.” He also mentions that out of tens of thousands of mushrooms, only a handful are fatal. Luckily, these mushrooms are very easy to recognize. Ken says that he always teaches students how to identify poisonous mushrooms in his classes at the Folk School.

Best resources for mushroom foraging and growing

Ken urges people with interest in fungi to join a local mushroom club. Many major cities have these informative clubs, and it is very inexpensive. Ken says, “The Atlanta Mushroom Club was a valuable resource because I had the opportunity to speak with a variety of people, and all of us had different knowledge that we could exchange.” Members will talk, teach, compare mushrooms, and learn along the way. Nowadays, Ken is a notable figure at the Atlanta Mushroom Club, stopping in to give speeches and teach beginners about the stunning benefits of the mushroom kingdom.

Learn About Wild Mushrooms in the Appalachian Mountains

Remember, Ken Zinkand teaches hands-on classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The folk school provides a stunning atmosphere nestled within the Appalachian Mountains. To learn more about the school and Ken Zinkand’s class, check out our previous article. Unfortunately, the folk school is the only place you can attend one of Ken’s fantastic mushroom courses.

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