Life on the Pietro Mushroom Farm in Kennett Square, Pa. starts at 4 a.m. Inside temperature-controlled rooms, they grow and harvest their product 365 days a year.
“And those mushrooms will actually be at the grocery store within one to two days,” said owner Chris Alonzo. “The shelf life is only about eight to 10 days, so we have to get them to market quickly.”
Pietro is just one of many mushroom farms that dot the rural landscape in Kennett Square. The Chester County community boasts a reputation as the nation’s leading mushroom producer, supplying about 50 percent of all the product consumed in the United States. Monterey, California is second followed by Reading, Pa.
Kennett’s rural location means it has an abundance of natural resources for the composting material needed to grow mushrooms. It’s also an easy train ride to many major cities along the East Coast, which made shipping easier.
Alonzo, a third generation mushroom farmer, said his one facility alone produces 11 million pounds of white mushrooms a year. That’s one percent of the entire white mushroom production for the entire country.
A few miles away at Phillips Mushroom Farms, you’ll find something a little more exotic. They are one of the largest specialty growers in the U.S., producing seven different varieties; white, brown, oyster, shitake, maitake, pom pom and eryngii.
“The uses of mushrooms is limited only by your imagination,” said General Manager Jim Angelucci. “You can use them in anything.”
Raised in Kennett Square, Angelucci joined the mushroom industry early on. He says they’re more delicate and harder to grow than orchids.
“When I was eight or nine, my father told me to put something on the table besides my elbows. So he sent me down the street to a mushroom farmer friend and I watered compost and turned boards and things like that, at $.25 an hour,” Angelucci recalled. “I’ve never told anyone that I meet what I do and they say, ‘oh yeah? Me too.’ It’s just unique.”
From the farm, it’s off to one of many packaging plants like Buona Foods. There, they slice, wash and sort every day of the year.
“By the time they get to here, you start to feel the satisfaction of providing the public with a safe, healthy product on a consistent basis that everyone enjoys and loves to eat,” said Peter Ferranto of Bella Mushrooms.
And it doesn’t take more than a day or two for the mushrooms to end up on dinner tables across the state. In fact, during the two weeks leading up to Christmas, farmers in Kennett Square literally need to double their output to meet consumer demand.
If you aren’t used to cooking with Kennett Square mushrooms, you can always sample them at the 2016 Pa. Farm Show.
Gale Ferranto’s family has been cooking up mushroom dishes at the Farm Show since 1978.
“There’s cream of mushroom soup, which is a nice, warm staple because the Farm Show, we know how cold it gets at the Farm Show,” she said.
This year she is dishing out newer items liked the “Blended Burger,” a healthier alternative made with beef and ground mushrooms. Staples like fried mushrooms, mushroom salad, and a portabella burger will also be available. In Kennett Square, you can even find mushrooms in the coffee.
The food court at the Pa. Farm Show opens on Friday, January 8 at noon.
Kennett Square is about a two-hour drive from Harrisburg and is easily accessed off Route 41.