Renaissance Mushroom Man

September 4, 2012

Words by Andrea Goto
Photography by Chia Chong

Stan Yockey is an enigma. First, he has two pugs that he may like more than most people and he collects hens on nests. You know the ones—the vintage candy dishes that adorn nearly every grandmother’s faux-oak china cabinet. This wouldn’t be so strange if Stan favored V-necks and Ricky Martin, but it’s entirely inconsistent with the turkey hide he’s tanning in his garage.

“Once I pretty it up and hang it on the wall, it’s very impressive,” Stan says, fingering the outer covering of what was once a turkey.

“It’s beautiful,” I offer, more as a question than a statement.

I’m not a hunter. I can hardly scout out a pork loin at the grocery. Nor would I ever consider garnishing my house with taxidermy. But I can appreciate Stan’s reverence for wildlife. He hunts, he skins, he prepares the game in one of his signature dishes and then memorializes the kill by writing about the experience and putting the animal’s head on the wall in a room his wife, Susan, describes as “Martha Stewart meets the Wild Kingdom.” It’s a quaint guest room. Susan’s whimsical watercolor paintings hang next to the heads of animals with vacant stares. Besides the goat head that seems to talk to me, the most prominent object in the room is the gorgeous antique Murphy Bed that Stan talks about with as much enthusiasm as he does the goat he shot in Washington state.

That’s when it occurs to me that Stan is a Renaissance man.

Like me, he grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He still looks the part with his groomed beard, button-up shirt and crisp jeans. In fact, put an REI windbreaker on him and a fly-fishing rod in his hand and I’d forget we’re in Georgia. We even attended the same college, though in different decades (sorry, Stan, but I have a youthful reputation to uphold). He began studying music, ended up in hotel and restaurant administration, and then joined his father at Boeing. There he worked in the upper management for 20 years before being recruited to Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation in Savannah, Georgia. Ten years later, an ailing economy sent him into a reluctant retirement.

Not one to pass his time in a La-Z-Boy watching “The Price is Right,” Stan has channeled his restless energy into creating just about everything. In his home located about 30 minutes south of Savannah in an understated town called Richmond Hill, he designs his own landscaping and making his own sausage. Stan has also written a wild fish and game cookbook tentatively titled A Life Outdoors and in the Kitchen. Oh, and he also grows mushrooms.

The real purpose of my visit is to see Stan’s mushroom farm, but after an hour of getting to know him, the mushrooms seem almost beside the point. Still, he leads me out the back door and through the dreary rain to the “barn” where he grows his fungi. Now, I may be a little citified, but I have a pretty good understanding of what a barn is. The white, plastic-covered shelter Stan presents to me is not a barn. In fact, it’s a little Blair Witch. The supports are made from sticks. Inside, 24 three-foot oak sections lean against each other like tepee frames—or scaffolding for a sacrifice. If not for the pugs and the hen-on-nest collection, I might be concerned for my safety.

Stan teaches me the ins and outs of growing Shiitake mushrooms with the passion of a first-year science teacher and I’m a captive audience because I really want him to give me some. He explains the arduous process of planting spores and daily waterings, making the three ripe mushrooms we find seem like gold nuggets in a miner’s pan. Stan plucks them from their stumps and promises to send them home with me, which he does. They smell like earth and taste like heaven.

In spite of our morning together, I never really figure Stan out. He’s an odd mix of Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western. He’s a white-collar worker with blue-collar sensibilities. Or maybe like the room with the goat and the Murphy Bed, we’ll just describe him as “Martha Stewart meets the Wild Kingdom” and leave it at that.

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