Pennsylvania is known for many things, like the steel workers in Pittsburg or the Amish in Lancaster. Even the “City of Brotherly Love” and cheese steaks. How many of you would guess that over half of all mushrooms sold in the United States come from southeastern Pennsylvania, in Chester County? Kennett Square is known as the mushroom capital of the world. One may ask, is it because of the soil or the climate? What is the secret to all this success?
Located just forty miles outside Philadelphia, Kennett Square is a town of just about six thousand people. Kennett township was named after a small village in Wiltshire, England. The term Kennett Square was first used in a 1765 petition in order to gain a license to operate an entertainment establishment. The farming of mushrooms has been a big part of the history of this community.
Why mushrooms? The short version of the story, as local folk lore would have it, involves a Quaker carnation farmer wanting to make the most use of their space underneath their flowerbeds. This made for the perfect conditions for mushroom farming. At the time, France was leading the world in mushroom cultivation, and England wasn’t too far behind. The farmer and a few of his friends took a trip across the pond to see what they could learn.
They returned from their trip with a group of starter spores, and had experienced some of the techniques used in the farming process. They had hired some of the local Italian immigrants who had recently been laid off from the stone quarry, to help with some of the heavy lifting. After a short amount of time, these immigrants had gained enough knowledge and saved enough money to branch out onto their own farm.
By the time the 1950’s had arrived, there was hundreds of mushroom farms all over Chester County, many of which were owned by Italians. What had aided the most in successfully growing this newly formed industry in America was the complete willingness for everyone to help one another. This large database of experience helped the industry as a whole grow, therefore helping their community and each other grow.