Oral history interviews on cultivated mushroom industryCreation: 2018-2019
Over half the mushrooms in the United States are grown in and around the town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which proudly calls itself the mushroom capital of the world. This oral history collection brings together interviews with individuals whose experiences capture the many different kinds of work and knowledge involved in mushroom cultivation, harvesting, packing, distribution, and marketing, and how those processes have changed over time.
- Creation: 2018-2019
- Spohn, Benjamin (staff) (Person)
- Williams, Amrys O. (staff) (Person)
- Hagley Museum and Library. Library. Oral History Project Office (Organization)
General Physical Description
16 WAV files.
Over half the mushrooms in the United States are grown in and around the town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which proudly calls itself the mushroom capital of the world. Beginning around the turn of the century, Quaker greenhouse owners began using the space below their beds to grow mushrooms. They hired Italian laborers, who then started their own mushroom farms. Today, Italian-American families own most of the mushroom companies in the area, and the labor force has shifted as well, from Puerto Ricans to Mexicans, as Pennsylvania’s mushroom farms became a destination for migrant farm workers looking for reliable, year-round employment in one place. Mushroom farming itself has changed, as growers have expanded their plants, mechanized certain aspects of production, and begun to market a wider variety of mushrooms.
Scope and Content
This oral history collection brings together interviews with individuals whose experiences capture the many different kinds of work and knowledge involved in mushroom cultivation, harvesting, packing, distribution, and marketing, and how those processes have changed over time. This is a story about an unusual farm product: one that grows inside, largely year-round, and that requires a different set of inputs than livestock or crop production. It is farming and not-farming in very interesting ways. It is a story that involves ethnic and immigrant communities, land-grant college research and scientific and political support for the industry, the formation of trade organizations and accessory industries that support mushroom farms, changes in marketing and distribution, agricultural policy and labor and immigration laws, and the persistence and growth of family operations. It is also a story about the Pennsylvania environment, the horse farms that provide the manure for compost, the land that provided the topsoil for mushroom beds, the climate that made production possible at certain times of year and not others, the vernacular architecture of the standard double mushroom house, and the changing geography of mushroom farming over time. Lastly, it is a story that offers a fascinating counterpoint to some of the major themes in twentieth-century agricultural history, including industrialization and consolidation of ownership.
The project includes interviews with mushroom growers and owners of mushroom businesses of different sizes, many of which are multigenerational family-operated concerns; mycologists and other scientists and technicians working in spawn laboratories at mushroom companies; business people whose companies provide the lumber, machinery, tools, heating and cooling, trucking, composting, spawn, and other services that mushroom cultivation requires; people who promote mushroom consumption through food, recipes, and marketing; and others.
This project documents a unique agricultural business, forming a foundation for research on how and why farming changed in the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Issues include the role of science, technology, climate control, and mechanization; immigration policy as it pertains to agriculture; the pressures of marketing and distribution; and the shift in agricultural research from the public to the private sector.
Existence and Location of Originals
View this collection online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
This collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Oral history interviews on cultivated mushroom industry
- Amrys O. Williams, Benjamin Spohn, Nicole Strunk, Marissa Kalinowsky, and Michelle DiMeo
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