Aug 9, 2022 - Food and Drink

Pennsylvania's "Mushroom Capital of the World" sees demand soar

"Mushroom capital of the world" is displayed on town water tower in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Kennett Square. Photo: Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At the start of the year, crystal balls predicted 2022 would be the Year of the Mushroom, as trendy new products flooded the market with umami flavor.

Why it matters: Animal farming is a major greenhouse gas emitter, and wider adoption of alternative meats like mushrooms, if produced cleanly, could help curb climate change, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

Yes, and: It's also good news for our local economy. Just 40 miles southwest of Philly sits Kennett Square, "The Mushroom Capital of the World" — a small Chester County town of about 6,000 residents where nearby farms grow roughly 60% of America's mushrooms.

Flashback: According to local lore, Kennett Square florist William Swayne started growing mushrooms under his elevated greenhouse benches in the 1880s. Word spread around town and more farmers started joining him.

  • By the 1950s, hundreds of farmers were growing mushrooms in Chester County, per Delaware Today, and in 1955, the trade group American Mushroom Institute was founded in the area.

Fast forward: Today, the industry contributes $1.2 billion to Pennsylvania's economy and supports more than 9,300 jobs, according to the state.

What they're saying: Mushrooms are made for this moment, as consumers shift their food-buying habits in the face of inflation, American Mushroom Institute (AMI) president Rachel Roberts said in a statement last month.

  • "They're a force-multiplier," institute spokesperson Lori Harrison told Axios. "You're getting health benefits, you're feeling full because they have that umami … and it might save you at the grocery store."

The institute reported this year that mushroom farmers have been working hard to keep up with the rising demand, but supply chain issues have restricted availability.

  • Retail sales of fresh mushrooms reached $311 million in the second quarter of 2022, which is down more than 4% from the same time last year, the institute reports.
  • Meanwhile, inflation drove mushroom prices up about 5%, per AMI.

Between the lines: Harrison told Axios that in southeastern Pennsylvania, farmers have faced some difficulty finding certain ingredients for their compost recipes, which are used to help grow the crop.

  • They've also seen transportation costs hike, all while farms grapple with labor shortages, which Harrison said is an issue that started long before the pandemic.
  • To attract workers, Harrison said some local farms have been offering more flexible schedules, and partnering with veterans groups.

What's ahead: September is National Mushroom Month, when Kennett Square hosts its annual Mushroom Festival. This year, you can visit vendors and try mushroom-forward foods from Sept. 10-11. More info.

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