Pennsylvania is home to the world's mushroom capital - TAI News
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In this photo taken Aug. 23, 2011, workers at Phillips Mushrooms harvest one of the beds of button mushrooms at the Kennett Township, Pennsylvania, facility. (AP Photo/Daily Local News, Tom Kelly IV)

When most people think of Pennsylvania, they might think of Hershey’s chocolate, Philly cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, or Amish Country. It’s unlikely people think of mushrooms. But believe it or not, the Keystone State is also home to the Mushroom Capital of the World.

Kennett Square is a tiny borough in Chester County, with a population of just over 6,000. The borough produces around 60% of all the mushrooms grown in the nation, followed by California, according to the American Mushroom Institute. Farms in the region produced over 400 million pounds of mushrooms in 2023.

Like the state’s billion-dollar agriculture sector in general, the cultivation of mushrooms in particular is a major source of income for the state, and the production of organic mushrooms specifically has doubled in recent years. The mushroom industry supports 9,500 jobs and infuses $2.7 billion annually into the local economy, according to Maria Gorgo-Simcox, an educator of horticulture who teaches in the Penn State College of Agriculture’s extension program.

A statement released by Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office in August 2023 said that Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry contributes $132 billion to the economy and supports over 580,000 jobs.

“Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and farmers are not only an important part of our heritage, but a key driver of our economy,” Shapiro said last year during a visit to Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, an annual agricultural exposition held in August. “If we work together and partner with our farmers, our Commonwealth can lead this country and the world as an agricultural powerhouse.

The history of mushroom farming in Pennsylvania dates back to around 1885, when a florist in Kennett Square by the name of William Swayne had the idea to grow mushrooms under the benches of his greenhouses, the Chester County Press noted in a story last year. He traveled to Europe to buy spores and began farming mushrooms; his son turned the business into a commercial success. Laborers hired by Swayne in turn began farming mushrooms themselves, and generations later, their descendants are growing mushrooms today.

In addition to the traditional white button mushrooms, farmers in the state produced $87 million in specialty mushrooms such as oyster and shiitake, in 2021-2022, according to the website Lancaster Farming.

On September 7 and 8, Kennett Square will celebrate its fungi with its annual Mushroom Festival, an event that raises money for local nonprofit organizations. Some 100,000 people attend the street fair that stretches over a mile through Kennett Square.

The theme of 2024’s festival is “Growing Strong.”

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