KENNETT SQUARE—After 20 years of volunteer service, Kathi Lafferty has retired as the Mushroom Festival Coordinator. Her leadership over the years created a bond of trust between the board, the mushroom industry, and the Borough of Kennett Square.
During her tenure, the festival grew from a one-day, one-block local celebration to a nationally-recognized event that attracted upwards of 100,000 visitors to Kennett Square. With the help of many dedicated volunteers, the Festival grew into one of the largest and most prestigious events in Pennsylvania. Over the last few years Lafferty also created and then planned the annual Midnight in the Square/Mushroom Drop on New Year's Eve.
“I am proud of how the Mushroom Festival has evolved over the last 20 years and the impact it has had in my community,” said Lafferty reflecting on her tenure as its leader. “Since joining the Mushroom Festival Board for the 16th Annual Mushroom Festival, there are several things I advocated for that have enhanced the Festival.”
Lafferty recalls her first accomplishment was beginning the Mushroom Festival Grant Program. “The Grant Program gave our sponsors a cause to support that would have good outcomes in the community all year,” she said. To date, the Mushroom Festival has awarded well over $1.1 million to local non-profits and supported research on the health benefits of mushroom with such instutions as the City of Hope. “That makes me very proud to have been a part of it,” said Lafferty.
She supported the somewhat controversial decision to start charging a modest entrance fee for the Festival. The funds raised from the entrance fees allowed the Festival to give even more back to the community through the grant program. She arranged for the Festival to partner with the Kennett High School Sports Boosters to staff the entrances. Then each year the Festival makes a sizeable donation to the organization. One of the outcomes of this partnership is the stadium lights at the high school.
During Lafferty's tenure, the Mushroom Festival was featured on Food Network's All American Food Festivals show. The Festival was featured as one of America's Best Food Festivals by Gourmet Live and won second place in the Reader's Choice/USA Today Travel contest. Travelocity also gave the Mushroom Festival the distinction as one of the top 10 festivals in Pennsylvania. Smithsonian Magazine featured the Mushroom Festival in a story about the most interesting cultural events around the world.
After a suggestion from local PA State Representative, John Lawrence, Lafferty, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, made it their mission to feature “The Mushroom Capital of the World” in a New Year’s Eve event. From the raising of funds, to the construction of a 700 lb. stainless steel mushroom covered in LED lights, the vision came to life. Each year, the community gathers in the center of town to witness the Mushroom Drop. Neighbors meeting neighbors, friends meeting friends, the young and old, all there to celebrate the New Year and our famous mushroom.
Lafferty said it was time for her to step down and allow someone else to lead the Festival through the next few decades. Both the mushroom industry and the Borough of Kennett Square are changing, and the Mushroom Festival will need to evolve again to meet those changes. After having to cancel the Festival in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic, the Festival restart is a good time to transition to another Festival Coordinator.
“I loved the Festival,” exclaims Lafferty. “There was just so much energy in Kennett Square. We had the best volunteers who would come out year after year to support us. It has always been just one big happy family. We were able to give visitors from near and far a great experience and give them a little education about Kennett Square's mushroom industry. There is so much I will miss about planning the Festival each year, but it is time to move on.”