By Maria Gorgo-Gourovitch
Last year, Pennsylvania farms produced more than 577 million pounds of white button mushrooms, which accounted for nearly $560 million in sales.
Nearly two-thirds of the white button mushrooms consumed the United States come from the 68 Pennsylvania (PA) mushroom farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). White button mushrooms are by far the most popular, however mushroom growers in the state also produce other varieties. Specialty mushrooms, including Shiitake, Oyster and others totaled more than $96 million in sales last year, according to NASS, with PA farmers making up a significant portion of those sales.
"From Philadelphia to Phoenix, chances are if you eat mushrooms on your pizza, in your salads or as part of your burgers, they come from Pennsylvania mushroom farms," said Lori Harrison, Mushroom Farmers of PA (MFPA) communications manager.
Mushrooms from the state were on display during the 102nd PA Farm Show in Harrisburg in January. Visitors were able to meet PA mushroom farmers, learn about the process of growing mushrooms, pick mushrooms and more in the popular mush-room located in the Main hall.
Economic Impact of Mushroom Farms in Pennsylvania
Southeastern Pennsylvania has the largest concentration of mushroom farms, which employ nearly 9,500 people. The mushroom farming community contributes an estimated $2.7 billion to the local economy including sales, farm employment, taxes, and value of service industries that support the farms.
Pennsylvania Mushroom Farming History
Pennsylvania mushroom growers have William Swayne to thank for the long tradition of mushroom growing in the state. A successful florist in Kennett Square, PA, he conceived the idea of growing mushrooms beneath his greenhouse benches. The results were encouraging enough to make him decide that a separate building would make it possible to control the growing conditions for mushrooms. He built the first mushroom house in the area and made it a commercial success. Soon others joined in their own mushroom growing businesses and the 'Mushroom Capital of the World' was born.
Today, all of the 68 mushroom farms are owned and operated by local families, and all but a few are multi-generational - mom and pop farms passed down to sons and daughters, nephews and cousins. In many cases, the current owners are third, fourth or even fifth generation farmers.
How Mushrooms Grow
The life of a cultivated mushroom requires sterile conditions, so the entire growing process begins in a laboratory. The spores, or natural seeds of the mushroom, are so tiny that a person cannot handle them. Instead, lab personnel inoculate sterile cereal grains with the spores and incubate them until they develop into a viable product. These grains become "spawn," which can then be sown like seed.
Meanwhile, at the farm, growers carefully prepare the basic growing medium for mushroom production. Called substrate, it's a key material in mushroom production. The substrate is made up of recycled materials like hay, straw, corn cobs, cocoa shells and horse or chicken manure. Once the substrate has been prepared and pasteurized to kill any pests, the material is placed in wooden trays or beds and mixed with the spawn. A top layer of peat moss is added. From this point, it takes about three weeks to produce the first mushrooms for harvest. Throughout the growing period, mushroom farmers play the role of Mother Nature, manipulating water, airflow, temperature fluctuation and more to maximize mushroom growth. Mushrooms mature at varying times, so picking by hand is continuous for two to three weeks.
Research shows that people who eat mushrooms have better diet quality and increased intake of some nutrients, making them the go-to ingredient for delicious family meals. It's never been easier to use mushrooms to transform meals, starting with those that may already be in the weekly rotation. Simply chop mushrooms to match the texture of ground meat - beef, pork, chicken, turkey (or tofu) - and use in place of some of the meat in recipes such as burgers, tacos, meatloaf, lasagna, pasta sauce, or meatballs to make every day dishes more healthful and delicious. This technique is referred to as The Blend.
Adapted from a news release by the Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania (MFPA). Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania (MFPA), headquartered in Avondale, Pennsylvania, is a state-wide, voluntary group representing the growers, processors and marketers of cultivated mushrooms in the state of Pennsylvania. For more information, visit their website.