variety of mushrooms grown locally
Variety of mushrooms grown locally

Kendal-Crosslands Communities is located just outside of Kennett Square, PA, which is known as the Mushroom Capital of the World. Why is that, and why are mushrooms such a big deal in Southern Chester County?

Understanding the History

Kennett’s rich soil made it a center of agriculture from its start. However, a new venture in specialized agriculture began in Kennett Township about 1895, when several local residents began growing flowers and vegetables under glass. Greenhouses appeared throughout the Township, growing principally roses and carnations.

Around 1885, William Swayne, a successful florist in Kennett Square, conceived the idea of growing mushrooms beneath his greenhouse benches. He sent to England for spawn, and the results were sufficiently encouraging to make him decide that a separate building would make it possible to control the growing conditions for mushroom culture. He built the first mushroom house in the area, and his son, J. Bancroft Swayne, returning from college, took over the mushroom business and made it a commercial success, eventually developing a spawn plant and a cannery in addition to the growing houses. Encouraged by the Swayne success, and the attractive price of mushrooms in city markets, others began the production of mushrooms as their principal occupation.

Over time, the mushroom growing business has grown into a full-fledged industry representing a $2.3 Billion impact on the local economy in Southern Chester County.  With so many people and the local economy affected by mushrooms, it was natural to start an annual festival!

Anna Santucci, our own Michele Berardi’s mom, being crowned Mushroom Queen in the late 40’s.

All About The Mushroom Festival

We’ve been celebrating mushrooms in our area for a long time. Michele Berardi, Director of Community Outreach for Kendal-Crosslands Communities, and her family have been part of the mushroom community for years.  In fact, she shared pictures of her mom, Anna Santucci, being crowned Mushroom Queen in 1948!

The official Mushroom Festival, in its current form, is celebrating its 32nd year in 2018. It always occurs the first weekend after Labor Day. This year, the festival will be held on September 8th and 9th, 2018. The festival includes cooking and tastings of mushroom dishes from top chefs from around the Country, local restaurants selling mushroom-based dishes, to vendors, crafts, and more all celebrating the mushroom!  There are even displays of mushroom growing, and you can buy locally cultivated mushrooms, including exotic varieties. The proceeds from the mushroom sales and the festival go to local non-profits. To find out more about this year’s festival, click here.

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are full of health benefits. They are naturally low in calories and great sources of fiber and protein, making them a great staple in plant-based diets. They have vitamin D, selenium and other important nutrients. Best of all, mushrooms are versatile. They can be eaten raw, cooked, added to soups, pastas, salads and more. A local favorite use is to take button mushrooms, run them through a food processor and chop fine, and then blend them with ground beef to add additional nutrition and flavor while reducing fat and calories. Click here for more information and recipes from The Mushroom Council.

The Future of Kennett Square- Sustainability

Many of the raw materials it takes to grow mushrooms, including hay and manure, are produced by farms in the area. This makes preservation of farmland and open space critically important not only to the natural beauty, but also to the economic future of the area.

With the problems of climate change and severe weather taking a toll on traditional outdoor grown crops, there’s been a growing interesting in indoor agriculture- also known as climate controlled agriculture.  And it turns out, Kennett Square already knows a lot about this, since we’ve been growing mushrooms indoors for years! Recently, local mushroom farmers in conjunction with Kennett Township are looking into the possibility of expanding into indoor green agriculture, taking advantage of the many resources already in the area, including the extensive logistics infrastructure already in place. Click this link to learn more  about this connection and indoor agriculture from PBS News Hour.

The mushroom industry was started by local Quakers and it fits well with Quaker values of simplicity, community and stewardship. By working towards long term sustainability and diversification of the industry to include green agriculture, Kennett Square in ensuring a bright future for years to come. Add in access to fresh, locally grown produce year-round, Kennett Square and Kendal-Crosslands Communities is a great place to call home!