Mushrooms are a delicious and nutritious food beloved around the world. You can find them in a wide variety of dishes across cultures, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a place in the US where mushrooms aren’t available. But, with so many mushrooms being consumed nationally, it begs the question: where are the most mushrooms grown?
The number one spot for mushroom production in the US is Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Located in Chester County, the town grows nearly half of the entire nation’s mushrooms, allowing residents to enjoy many different kinds of mushrooms in mass quantities.
This information is news to many, as you might expect sunnier states to produce more mushrooms. It only gets more interesting from here as we dive into how mushroom farms work, mushroom production’s stimulation of the local economy, and more. Read on to get a good grasp of Pennsylvania’s role in America’s mushroom industry.
Your Delicious Mushrooms Probably Came from Kennett Square, PA
No place grows more mushrooms than Kennett Square, Pennsylvania – lending the town the apt title of “Mushroom Capital of the World.” An astounding 44% of the country’s mushrooms come from this little town that many don’t even know about! It all traces back to 1896 when a few commercial farmers decided to branch out to a new kind of crop: mushrooms. This crop became a trend that boomed in popularity, leading more and more farmers to try on mushroom farming for themselves.
As of this writing, there are 68 mushroom farms in Pennsylvania, and a stunning 61 are centered in Chester County. Unlike most other crops out there, you can grow mushrooms pretty much anywhere because the growth process happens indoors. It just so happens that some Quakers from Pennsylvania jumped on the opportunity to start a booming mushroom business before the rest of the nation caught on, and the PA mushroom industry has continued to bloom ever since.
There’s no particular quality to Pennsylvania that lends itself to being a prime spot for mushroom growth; it was simply a matter of the right people taking action at the right time.
Mushroom farming is also known as fungiculture (a term that applies to other fungi, as well) and is now the leading agricultural business in Kennett Square. Over 500 million pounds of mushrooms come out of this region every single year, and that number is only growing as demand increases and farms invest money to expand their operations further.
In fact, expansions are happening at such a rapid rate that roughly $115 million is projected to be invested in the near future, a move that would increase total mushroom production in the United States by 3%. It’s not at all unreasonable to say that Pennsylvania is the lifeblood of American mushroom production and that the nation heavily relies on the state for its mushrooms.
Growing mushrooms is quite a detailed process, so Kennett Square has devoted huge amounts of resources to bolster production. But, unfortunately, you can’t grow mushrooms just anywhere – you need to use buildings specially designed for the task to ensure the fungi thrive.
Also, whereas we associate growing crops with vast amounts of sunlight, mushrooms actually need dark areas with a little moisture in order to really get growing. Farmers have to be careful with these environments, though, as an entire crop of mushrooms can be ruined if certain factors like the temperature or moisture level change too quickly.
Rather than being planted in rows in the ground, mushrooms are cultivated in a couple of different types of vertical structures – stacks of beds or pillars. These setups give them plenty of room to spread out, which is essential because these fungi double in size every single day!
Farmers use compost from all kinds of suitable decomposing material, such as leftovers from agricultural production, to create substrate. The substrate serves as the base for the structures in which the mushrooms thrive and provide them with the nutrients they need.
Once the mushrooms have grown to their fullest capacity, pickers come in and harvest them in massive quantities. From there, it’s time for these delicious little fungi to be shipped out. They hit grocery store shelves across the country soon after being harvested. As Kennett Square produces nearly half of the nation’s entire mushroom supply, the mushrooms are shipped out coast to coast.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The most commonly eaten mushroom is the mild-tasting White Button. It is the one you will usually see in most grocery stores.
What Kind of Mushrooms are Grown in Kennett Square, PA?
Kennett Square’s mushroom farmers don’t just stick to one type of mushroom – since they grow so many of the mushrooms consumed all over the US, they cast a wide net. As a result, the most popular kind of mushrooms grown here are the brown and white mushrooms you see in all sorts of stores, belonging to the Agaricus family.
Plenty of consumers in the US enjoy rarer specialty mushrooms, too, so the farms in Kennett Square grow accordingly to meet demand. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are two examples of these specialty mushrooms, alongside more obscure ones like enokis and pom poms. Although most of the market is concentrated on those popular Agaricus mushrooms, the specialties are still hugely important to PA growers.
How Long Does It Take to Grow a Mushroom?
As we’ve discussed above, growing mushrooms in mass quantities is no simple feat. It takes loads of time, effort, and resources, as well as a watchful eye, to ensure that conditions inside the mushroom houses don’t change drastically and harm the growth. Due to how complex the process is, there are many different factors that affect how long it takes to grow a mushroom.
First of all, the type of mushroom you’re dealing with will have a massive impact on grow time because certain mushrooms grow much faster than others. Whether or not you’re growing indoors is another significant variable, along with the quality of substrate you’re using and how much you regulate conditions like air quality and temperature. Large-scale farms such as those in Kennett Square have the whole process completely optimized, so their grow times are ideal for each species of mushroom they grow. For example, oyster mushrooms can reach maturity in as little as seven to fourteen days, whereas something like shiitake mushrooms can take months to finish growing.
How Much Money Does the Mushroom Industry Contribute to the Economy in PA?
With so much of the world’s mushroom production being relegated to Chester County, Pennsylvania, it should come as little surprise that the mushroom industry acts as a considerable stimulus to the state’s economy. It’s estimated that Pennsylvania’s local economy receives an outstanding $2.7 billion stimulus from its mushroom industry every year. That number includes a range of factors, such as gross sales, tax revenues, and job openings.
Not only does the PA mushroom industry heavily contribute to the local economy in terms of sheer dollars, but it also boosts employment for Pennsylvanians that might have few job opportunities otherwise. Nearly 10,000 people are employed in Pennsylvania’s mushroom industry, and the Hispanic community makes up a large portion of that number. This is one of the many ways that Kennett Square’s mushroom business is a win/win for all involved and, of course, the nation at large that gets to enjoy delicious mushrooms.
However, there have been concerns about recent trends in Pennsylvania’s mushroom industry. Demand is getting so high that rising supply prices are forcing smaller farms out of business. In addition, it costs a lot to grow mushrooms these days as demand outpaces supply, and housing many of the workers who have emigrated to Pennsylvania is not as feasible as it once was. Nevertheless, mushrooms continue to fuel the local economy massively, but many in the community hope that new resources will arise to accommodate increasing market pressure.
Who is the Largest Mushroom Grower in the US?
Of all the mushroom growers in the United States, the largest is Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square, PA. This company produces over 35 million pounds of mushrooms each and every year, and that number will only increase as they continue to expand production.
In addition, they grow practically every kind of mushroom under the sun to match national demand, from white buttons to oysters to shiitakes. As a result, Phillips established themselves as one of the premiere mushroom growers in the US and has steadily grown their business to become the most prominent grower.
Kennett Square, PA Has Your Mushroom Needs Covered
Most likely, most people wouldn’t guess that nearly half of the mushroom production in the United States comes from a little town in Pennsylvania, but it’s true! Kennett Square’s plethora of mushroom farms (Phillips Mushroom Farms being the leader of the pack) supply so much of the fungi we often eat. Next time you’re munching on a delicious mushroom, take a moment to appreciate Pennsylvania’s role in putting that meal on your plate.