Story last updated at 10/16/2013 - 7:19 pm
HAINES - Meet the mushroom man. Mark Cozzi (also known as the Fun Guy - say it to yourself three times fast, think about mushrooms, and you'll get it) owns Second Nature, a Haines store focusing on foraged and natural products. Vice President and wife Julie Cozzi (the Fun Gal) is a central component of the store as well.
Mark comes from "a family line of foragers." He grew up hearing stories about his father and grandfather foraging for wild mushrooms in the San Joaquin valley.
"I was always mushroom-curious," Mark said.
After arriving in Haines in 2002, he began researching, doing field study, and visiting mycology clubs. He then started foraging for chanterelles, morels, and king boletus mushrooms, selling them to local restaurants. The Cozzis also began using those mushrooms in their meals.
"We both love to cook," Julie said, "but there's only so many you can use."
In 2005, Mark began selling about 12 different kinds of dried mushrooms in holiday bazaars around Southeast.
"It was a big hit," Mark said.
He also began selling mail-order mushrooms through his website as Fun Guy Foraged Products.
It was in 2010 that they opened their store on Second Street, called "Second Nature."
It's named for two things - first, the term itself. Part of the goal of the business is to help foraging become "second nature" for their customers.
The second meaning of the name combines their location and their products, as they're located on Second Street.
In the years since it opened, the Cozzis have taken the store from a focus on mushrooms into "the full scope of foraging." They carry books on topics like knot-tying, survival, and seaweed, plant, and mushroom identification; survival kits; the tools and ingredients people need to make their own beer - or root beer; items for children, vintage kitchen collectibles, and cookbooks. They sell locally made soaps and wild herb tea. They make and sell their own kombucha. They carry Birch Boys syrup, mushroom and rice mixes, dry mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, and raw Pacific Northwest honey.
Honey is likely their most popular item, they said. Mushrooms are very popular as well, but the amount they're able to sell depends how good of a season they had foraging.
"We branched into all things 'nature,'" Julie said.
"Just like it says on our sign," Mark added. "The store that helps people enjoy nature's bounty."
One of their goals is to give people the resources so they can learn to safely add foraged products to their pantry and kitchen, Mark said.
"I think that's one reason we've done okay," Julie said. "People are really into doing it themselves."
Over the years they've pursued it, interest in locally foraged products has grown "by leaps and bounds," Julie said. "So many people have said they've never seen a store like this."
While growing interest in foraging helps their store, it also has another effect, however: as more people forage, mushrooms, berries, and other foods are harder to find. This "makes us happy," Julie said.
The Cozzis do their best to feature local products. Though they do get some cruise ship passengers, the majority of their customers are either locals or "rubber tire traffic" (people coming up on the ferry, or down from Canada.)
Some of the challenges of the business are finding locally and Alaska produced items, as well as the cost of freight.
Having added so much of "nature's bounty" to the store, they're running out of physical space - something that might lead them to expand to another location in Southeast. Several customers have requested they open a store in Juneau. They also might try to put King Porcini - Mark's brand of dried mushrooms - in Southeast grocery stores.
Mark has also considered pursuing formal education in mycology. He is self-taught.
"I'm very proud and honored to have people see me as somewhat of an authority in this field (foraging)," Mark said. "I'm very lucky that I get to sell items that I truly believe in, and to get others to enjoy nature the way I do."
Cozzi's website, which will soon get an update, is http://kingporcini.com/. He also has a Facebook page.