I wanted to take some time to introduce myself. I’m Kevin Krzyzaniak, the creator, owner, and only employee at Blue Ridge Chaga Connection. So in short I do all the foraging, processing and packaging of all my products. It is my passion and I believe, my purpose to do this work. Let me start with a little about myself and how I got here, doing what I do.
I was born in 1978 in Buffalo, New York, during one, really big snow blizzard. My love for wandering in the forest began during my early years in Upstate NY. I lived in a small town called Adams and much of my time was spent adventuring with my friends exploring outside. Growing up surrounded by nature began my curiosity and love for the forest. I moved out of my home at the young age of 15 and got my first apartment and under the table job at a pizza place. I then got married at 20 and got out of New York. I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a year then to Baltimore, Maryland where we had my son. Having a child at twenty two brought a lot of responsibility and also a lot of purpose to my life. Having moved out of my house so young, I had learned how to make my own way and how to be creative in making ends meet. Baltimore was a rough city to raise a child and we moved up the state to Abingdon. The landscape there was amazing, with lots of forest, waterfalls and places to hike. I loved taking my son out into nature and did every chance I could get. After five years there we moved again to Clearwater, Florida, giving the beach a second chance. It was here we got divorced. With no certain direction and my son living with my ex in NY I began to get mixed up in a party lifestyle. That time in my life, looking back, is where my addictions began to form. I went through an intense period of drinking and doing drugs. I remained in Florida, moving to the Tampa area for the next five years. I found a new relationship and fell in love with kayaking, camping and hiking which kept me level and gave me new excitement for exploration. I started paying attention to the many exotic plants and animals along the rivers and parks. I found myself kayaking with alligators, visiting the many mounds built by native cultures and learning about the flora growing around me. I began to notice fruits and mushrooms, collecting seeds and reading books on the subject. Along the way I tore my ACL and was stuck indoors for several months. I was prescribed pain killers and grew very fond of them. I also discovered the art of drawing. Being stuck indoors, the outlet of drawing became my new passion, and still is a huge part of my life. Next came Asheville!
Upon visiting just once, I knew instantly Asheville was to be home. The city was uniquely different, full of art and music and with just one hike, the Blue Ridge Mountains called to me like nothing before. I spent nearly everyday out hiking and exploring the trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway, an amazing forest highway stretching from Virginia into the Great Smokey National Park. Upon getting in the forest, I quickly got curios. I instantly noticed many, many mushrooms everywhere, all different shapes, sizes and colors. This region of the Appalachian Mountains is among the worlds oldest and most diverse. Curiosity is the best word to describe how mushroom hunting and my business began. I wanted to know which mushrooms I could eat, what they tasted like, which I had to avoid and which ones made medicine. The mushrooms seemed to call to me like some sonar from outer space, I noticed them everywhere and quickly developed an eye for spotting them. Besides the mushrooms, the diversity of plant life is so different than any place I had been and I just had to know as much as I could. I did a local identification tour and was instantly hooked. That one led to many more, it also launched me into seeking out local experts, teachers, medicine makers and even a couple semesters at a local community college. There was so much to learn. Something I teach people now is not to try to learn everything at once, that can be over whelming as there are thousands of varieties of mushrooms and plants out there, instead learn to master a hand full first and then add a few at a time, doing tours, classes and workshops are essential for this way of learning. Being able to see, touch, smell, and taste, hands on in the natural environment is the best way. There is so much room for error trying to learn from pictures or online sources. Myself, I took many pictures, kept excellent notes, and committed as much as I could to memory on these forays. I learned much of what I know from a wizard in the woods named Joe Hollis out in Burnsville, NC. Joe has created an oasis of hands on learning on his property called Mountain Gardens. I learned how to tincture, make tea blends, preserve roots and plant parts, identification, off grid, sustainable living and so much more. I would often go to his house and traded work of all kinds for a lesson of the day. Besides learning from people, I did my own research from books and online. I began foraging edible and medicinal mushrooms to sell and discovered many people were interested in alternative healing and wild foods. My business began simply by word of mouth and grass roots style of connecting with local shop owners, something I still practice regularly.
Right away I was fascinated by Chaga, it was the one super unusual mushroom that stood out to me. I sampled the tea and started drinking it everyday, something I have done ever since! The hunt for Chaga is challenging and requires a sharp, observant eye. Once spotted, the work of getting it out of the tree can be exhausting, as it sometimes grows very high. Not to mention Chaga grows in high elevations, some of the harshest climates as well as having to hike straight up long trails. I became very good at throwing rocks and branches, climbing trees and building ladders out of old stumps and downed branches. After retrieving the Chaga, next came the break down and drying. Chaga is extremely hard and without an industrial grinder, one must break it up by hand. I use a mallet and sledge hammer. I always dry my Chaga in the sun for several days, to absorb vitamin D and finally the tincture making and tea bag packaging, all adds up to a lot of time spent putting in work and love and dedication to the craft. Chaga gave my life wonderful purpose as well as adding health to my body in ways I never knew it would.
Along the way my addiction caught up with me. I found myself indulging in Ashevilles night life and drinking culture. My life fell into a deep depression after a long, hard break up. I began to lose control. I refused to acknowledge I had a problem. In the mist of my troubles, I fell 30 feet off upper Catawba falls, while intoxicated. This event began to open my eyes but wasn’t the wake up call unfortunately. I met someone shortly after that, that changed my life. Meeting my partner Jill opened up new ways of looking at life. She has a passion for yoga, meditation and healthy living. While away in India, studying yoga, I made the decision to get sober after almost losing her with my bad decisions. During that time my father was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. This was a very hard situation as my father and myself were estranged for many years. We reconnected with a visit for his last birthday in Buffalo. My son and myself spent a special time with him and the family. It was healing and also very challenging. We would return months later, with Jill, as he made his last stand against this horrible disease. It was extremely hard to watch him pass and loaded with emotions. Shortly after his passing I relapsed in a most horrific, scary way. I realized I couldn’t beat addiction on my own and reached out for help. I went to detox and then rehab voluntarily and when I got out I committed myself to change. I threw myself into several recovery programs, all of which I still attend, volunteered various places, began yoga and meditation practices and surrounded myself with positive people. I met amazingly strong people and opened myself up like never before. Jill and my son were huge supports, along with my new found community. I found a part time job as a substance abuse counselor, which I still do. For the first time in a long time I was clear headed and substance free. It gets easier everyday but the temptations and cravings are always just around the corner. With recovery came a new motivation and drive to focus on my passion. With a big push from Jill, I dove in head first. I expanded my passion by stepping up my hustle, getting into tail gate markets and leading mushroom and plant ID walks. I officially became a business!
I have met so many wonderful people in doing this work. Helping people learn the land, connect with the natural world, find better health and awaken new passion has been so very rewarding. Having the chance to spend so much time out in the forest has been a dream come true. As I continue this journey I want to thank all the people who have and continue to support my venture. People who believe in what I do and choose to buy local and support small business. It has been a long, wild ride with many miles yet to go. Come to Asheville and meet me in person and lets take a walk in the woods! Also take a look at my personal blog: https://funguy2017.wordpress.com/