State Rep. Tom Houghton wants the mushroom industry to know he is not the enemy, but he may have his work cut out for him.Houghton is a lawyer and Democrat representing the 13th District in southwest Chester County previously represented for 26 years by Arthur D. Hershey, a farmer and a Republican.
Houghton, of London Grove, plans on introducing his Mushroom Industry Protection Act.
The measure would remove composting from the list of protected acts in the Right to Farm Law, thereby redefining composting as an industrial process.
"The current law blocks townships from protecting the health, safety and welfare of their residents by preventing municipalities from requiring that a composter incorporate the industry's best practices to reduce gaseous emissions," Houghton said.
"This change I'm proposing will give municipalities the ability to reasonably regulate the 'bad apples' in the composting industry. The mushroom industry plays an integral role in our economy in southern Chester County."
Jerry Yeatman, a fourth-generation mushroom farmer at C.P. Yeatman & Sons, said he would "absolutely not" want to see composing removed from the Right to Farm Law.
Yeatman, who is also chairman of the London Grove Planning Commission, believes the Department of Environmental Protection currently has enough guidelines and safeguards in place to regulate the industry.
Yeatman said he could not comment specifically on Houghton's planned Mushroom Industry Protection Act since he has not seen a draft of it yet.
C.P. Yeatman has been mushroom farming since 1921.
Houghton, a freshman lawmaker, said his measure would be the solution that could protect not only surrounding communities from poor air quality, but also the composting industry, which is plagued by lawsuits and community unrest.
The measure would help secure the industry's future prosperity in Pennsylvania, he said.
"The problem lies not with mushroom farming, but with large-scale composting operations," Houghton said. "Composters can, but often do not, choose to at least partially enclose their compost or incorporate simple aeration systems to reduce emissions."
Houghton said if composting were regulated as an industry it would be subject to municipal restrictions such as keeping the compost partially enclosed and having oxygen pumped into it.
The two conditions would reduce odor emissions by "90 percent," said Houghton, a London Grove supervisor from 2002 to 2008. The conditions also speed compost production, a win for the industry.
Houghton used the example of mushroom growers such as Gourmet Delight, which agreed to enclose and aerate its compost when it came to London Grove supervisors to get approval for an expansion, Houghton said. As a result, the lawmaker said he worked with that company to help get its expansion approved.
"I'm proud to have them here," Houghton said.
Houghton, who campaigned on the promise to introduce the measure to the state Legislature, said he is working with lawmakers who serve with him on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Environmental and Energy Committee to help draft the legislation. Meanwhile, he said his staff is reviewing the law.
If passed, the measure "would give townships the ability to draft ordinances" to regulate new composing companies.
Houghton's concern these days is a proposal from Superior Growers LLC to build a mushroom farm and large-scale composting operation in London Grove that does not include plans to incorporate technology to reduce odorous, gaseous emissions.
Houghton said because the application is already filed with the township, it would not be affected by his measure.
If the issue had been "tackled a year ago, we wouldn't be in this situation," Houghton said.
The owner of Superior Growers did not respond to requests seeking comment. The requests were forwarded through his lawyer.
The proposed mushroom farm would be located on 115 acres in London Grove and include a mushroom house, composting area, trucking facility and workers' housing, said Linda Connery, a nearby homeowner.
"There is a lot of controversy about it," Connery said.