AVONDALE, Pa. — Southeast Pennsylvania is known as the ‘Mushroom Capital of the World,” where the largest concentration of mushrooms farms in the country operate. These 57 farms produce nearly two-thirds of all the white button mushrooms consumed in the United States and last year produced more than 577 million pounds of white button mushrooms, accounting for nearly $560 million, according to the Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania.
Mushrooms from the state will be on display during the 102nd Pa. Farm Show in Harrisburg this week. Visitors will be able to meet Pennsylvania mushroom farmers, learn about the process of growing mushrooms, pick mushrooms and more in the popular Mush-Room located in the Main hall.
So who are these mushroom farmers?
They are family. Arthur P. Yeatman bought a farm in West Grove, Pa., to be used for dairy operations. It wasn’t until 1921 that he built his first two mushroom houses. Followed by three more in 1922 and 1923. By 1930, the dairy operation was discontinued and four more mushroom houses were built. Operating as A.P. Yeatman & Sons, Arthur’s son Clarence bought another 77-acre farm in 1949 with an additional 3.5 mushroom houses. Clarence’s oldest son Artie began the dairy operation again in 1950.
Clarence’s other two sons, Jim and Bob, came into the business in 1958 and formed a new partnership, C.P. Yeatman & Sons. Clarence and Jim operated the mushroom farm while Artie and Bob operated the dairy farm until 1962 when the dairy farm was sold. Today, in its fourth generation, C.P. Yeatman & Sons specializes in organic mushroom production and operates growing and packing divisions. Every mushroom farm in Pennsylvania is family owned, and each has its own unique story to tell.
They are innovators. In 1927, William Phillips started Phillips Mushrooms Farms, a small mushroom growing business in Kennett Square, Pa. His early experiments in using ice for temperature control during summer months were a significant breakthrough for the mushroom industry, allowing mushrooms to be grown year-round. In 1961, William’s sons, Donald and Marshall, formed a partnership and expanded the family growing operation into the packaging, marketing and transportation of white button mushrooms throughout the New England area. This operation expanded over the years until it was marketing 12 million pounds of white button mushrooms per year.
In 1980, Don and Marshall felt a need to diversify their business and began experimenting with Shiitake mushrooms that were grown indoors on supplemental sawdust logs. Their dedication to this project enabled them to become the first successful indoor Shiitake growers in the U.S. Today, through state of the art technology, commitment to marketing and a personal approach to their business, Phillips Mushrooms Farms is the largest marketer of specialty mushrooms in the U.S.; distributing over 35 million pounds of specialty mushrooms annually.
They are environmental stewards. Brothers Tom and Harold Brosius are the fifth generation at the helm of Marlboro Mushrooms in West Grove, Pa., the oldest family mushroom farm in the country. While the mushroom farm has a rich history, Tom and Harold are looking to the future. In 2011, they installed nearly 5,000 solar panels at the farm, the largest tracking solar panel array in Pennsylvania. Mushrooms don’t typically need much help from the sun, however the controlled environment required to grow mushrooms requires tremendous amounts of energy and electricity. The panels enable the farm to harvest the sun’s power and take advantage of a renewable resource while limiting dependence on fossil fuels. With the panels, the brothers are able to generate nearly 100 percent of their annual electric needs. Marlboro Mushrooms is the only solar powered mushroom farm in the world.
They are successful businesses. Pietro Giorgi built his first mushroom houses in Temple, Pennsylvania in 1928. While its commitment to excellence has continued throughout the decades, under Pietro’s leadership, Giorgi Mushrooms has been able to adapt to changes in the industry. In the 1950s, the company added a cannery to meet the demands of the supermarket industry, and in the 1970s, Giorgi Mushrooms opened a modern facility to produce frozen mushrooms. Today, the company employs a management philosophy called Kaizen, which stresses the value of seeking ‘continuous improvement’ in everything the company undertakes – from growing and processing to service and delivery. In addition to internal growth, Giorgi has become one of the largest mushroom growers in the country.
“Pennsylvania mushroom farms employ nearly 9,500 people throughout the state,” said Lori Harrison, communications manager, MFPA. “These family-run, multi-generational mushroom farms contribute an estimated $2.7 billion to the local economy including sales, farm employment, taxes, and value of service industries that support the farms.”
— Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania