The past weekend’s Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square was a splendid showcase for Pennsylvania’s largest cash crop. Not only did it bring visitors from afar to support the area financially, but it got the word out that southern Chester County is an impressive place to live and that mushrooms are good for more than a side dish to steak.
The mushroom industry in southern Chester County has a proud history in spite of the distaste many area newcomers feel for the methods and materials of the production process.
According to the stories from local mushroom growers and historians, the crop started more than a century ago when Italian immigrants got off the ships in Wilmington and made their way to the Kennett Square and Toughkenamon area. Many of them brought their skills as stone masons and rose growers.
But as they set up their greenhouses for flowers, they planted mushrooms in the lower shelves.
Inasmuch as Unionville has for years been an equine center as well, there was a good supply of manure, straw and hay, the bedding that nourishes the fungi.
Soon, some of the enterprising growers established mushroom farms independent of the roses, and the industry was born.
Like much of agriculture, growing mushrooms has involved dirt and odors, which is recent years have been reduced by improved methods.
Also through the years have evolved more edible varieties, which have come to be called exotics.
The industry has been quite successful and has poured much into the local economy.
It has also produced many community leaders who have supported their home towns for generations.
About 30 years ago, a group of people got together and founded what is now the annual Mushroom Festival.
At first it was a rather weak event with a parade that sometimes was little more than a block long, a queen pageant that involved a fancy dinner, and a day-long series of demonstrations by local groups.
How things have changed.
The visitors this past weekend are said to have set attendance records, and the list of events and demonstrations was almost too much for one person to see even in two days.
Here are some of the benefits we reaped:
The local eateries demonstrated what they had to offer, and much of it was very good.
Listening to visitors from out of town, it was obvious that they were impressed and felt that they were receiving classy and interesting dishes.
Kennett Square showed that it was no hick town. Again and again one could hear people remarking that this is a “neat place to come.”
The festival also brought out the best in creative foodies and chefs, who demonstrated to thousands what can be done with mushrooms.
It would be no surprise to see the sales of mushrooms on the market soar after the festival.
But most of all, it gave the public an enjoyable holiday and a worthy destination for the week after Labor Day.
They drove west -- many of them -- and found a good time in just an hour or so from where they lived.
Year after year, this impressive event puts southern Chester County on the map and places its name in publications as a great place to visit.
For that we thank the organizers, volunteers and the growers that made this weekend a memorable one.