This is not what may first come to your mind, and I may get to that in a later blog. Today our “trip” takes us to Pennsylvania, where the countryside around Kennett Square in Chester County leads the U.S. with its mushroom production. There are 61 mushroom farms that currently produce over 400 million pounds of mushrooms valued at $365 million. The industry directly employs almost 10,000 workers, primarily from the area’s large Hispanic community.
The farms include cinderblock buildings called mushroom “barns”, “houses” and “doubles”. The roads in the area are filled with flatbed trucks, dump trucks and panel-bodied trucks – each playing their own specific part in this agricultural industry. Compost used to be made from horse manure, but now it begins as hay (delivered on flatbed trucks) spread on concrete slabs. Nitrogen is added, and the compost is turned for several days. It is when those piles become a steaming smelly mass that a person is especially reminded that they’re in mushroom country. When the compost is ready it’s moved to the mushroom houses (by dump trucks), spread on growing racks and pasteurized. At this point it’s ready for the spawn that are planted and topped with peat moss, limestone and water.
The mushrooms are hand harvested over a period of several days about 10 or 11 weeks after sewing the crop. Crews start harvesting as early as 4 a.m., and the mushrooms are immediately rushed (via panel trucks) to modern processing centers where they are cooled to 34 degrees within 30 minutes of arrival. By that evening they are cleaned, packaged and on their way to markets across the country in refrigerated trucks. A new marketing program is driving the use of blending mushrooms with protein in institutional and school lunch programs because mushrooms are high in nutrition and have less calories and fat than meats.
It used to be that there were only three crops a year, but today mushroom growing is a 24-hour, seven-day, 365 days a year operation with four to six crops annually. The biggest challenge these farms face today is finding labor, along with public resistance to local expansion because of the odors, water usage and compost disposal issues.
And in case any of you are wondering, the bulk of the mushrooms produced in this area are in the Agaricus family – the white and brown button mushrooms plus the large portobellos. You can take a trip to see these mushroom farms and their mushrooms, but these mushrooms will not take you on any trip…
-Terry Olson, Titan Outlet Store Team