This spring I planned a trip for my Food Crops class to Kennett Square to tour the largest specialty mushroom grower in the U.S. – Phillips Mushroom Farms.
Jim Angelucci, the general manager of Phillips was our guide. Jim is a meticulous man and when he spoke you could see the twinkle of mushrooms in his eyes. We all donned red hair nets to prevent unwanted contamination in the houses. Jewelry and other small objects that could be lost during the tour were asked to be removed before we entered the houses. These types of precautions have become best practice standards in the industry which started at Phillips Mushroom Farm. The farm has been in business since 1927 and continues to lead the industry with its contributions to food safety, substrate development, cutting edge technology and production practices.
The white, windowless buildings were impeccable. Each of the buildings had a “headhouse” or corridor where all the controls were located for each of the rooms. Humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide are constantly being monitored for optimal growing conditions. Stacks of mushroom trays stood almost as tall as the ceiling along the walls of the hallway. Double doors marked the entry to each room. (See photo above)
The mushroom beds were stacked in threes with an added second floor with similar stature and structure. The beds were made of wooden slats and the sides could be pulled up to see the mycelium growth like a fine thick carpet. (See photo below)
The waste from surrounding farms that goes into the growing media shows how this industry relies on the discards of other operations that would otherwise pollute the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding tributaries. The compost that results from mushroom production is considered to be black gold.
The fragrance of mushrooms varied from one mushroom type to another – this room smelled earthy and fresh and the humidity level was high. I felt like I was getting the most expensive spa treatment ever. I just wanted to breathe deeply and take in the atmosphere. Jim said he always feels great after walking through the houses. Perhaps the medicinal traits of mushrooms made me feel completely energized as we continued our tour.
According to Jim Angelucci, their company grew the first Portobello mushrooms in the country in 1985. To develop a market for these mushrooms, Phillips gave the mushrooms away to markets from Maine to Florida. They were hoping that restaurants and Foodies would try these amazing mushrooms and create a demand for them. Portobello mushrooms quickly took off as great vegan option because it has a thick and meaty texture.
Next was the shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) houses. The name shiitake comes from the word tree mushroom. Shiitake grows on the deadwood of deciduous trees which includes, shii, oak, maple, mulberry, sweetgum, ironwood, poplar and beech. The specific epithet edodes means edible, yielding the translation - edible tree mushroom.
In 1979 after creating the perfect formula of substrate on which shiitake could grow on, Phillips Mushroom Farms was the first in the country to grow shiitake mushrooms year round.
Jim likes to call mushrooms vegetables without chlorophyll and he encourages a healthy diet of them. As we walk from room to room, he shares statistics on the increase of sales for mushrooms world-wide. Over $1.2 billion are sold each year in the U.S. Pennsylvania grows the lion’s share of this at almost $500 million.
The king oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii) is the only mushroom that is specifically grown for its stem. When sliced down the middle and grilled it can be used for a meat substitute. It is considered to be an immune booster and good for reducing cholesterol. Its specific epithet eryngii refers to its association and growth on the roots of sea holly (Eryngium campestre) and
The oyster mushrooms (above) were the most colorful of the mushrooms that we saw. Heidi loving her new bouquet of yellow oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus citrinopileatus).
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) or commonly known as hen-of-the-woods typically grows at the base of oak trees in the fall of the year in the Northeast U.S., Japan and China. Maitake has great immune boosters and is currently being used as a treatment for breast cancer. Phillips grows theirs on sawdust, millet seed and wheat bran and takes 45 days or more to harvest.
Above, the grey oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on a substrate of cottonseed hulls and straw which takes 21 days to harvest.
At first glance above, it looks like a group of mannequins in a space-age environment with the grey oyster mushrooms growing out the slits that are carefully selected to allow them to push out their fruiting bodies. Boards hold them up in varying positions. The rooms are cloudy from the humidity.
Our trip to the mushroom farm was a huge success and became one of the highpoints of the semester. Soon after our trip we had a student arrange for a mushroom grower to come talk to faculty, students and staff at the Temple University Ambler Campus. The enthusiasm over the Smugtown Mushrooms talk convinced me that this topic is not going away.
The takeaway from both experiences was the fact that the mushroom industry is growing faster than the industry can keep up with the demand. As research continues in the field of mycology, we will see an explosion of mushroom growing everywhere – especially to enhance healthier eating, improve health and to cure disease. My students will be ready for this explosion.
Phillips Mushroom Farms http://www.phillipsmushroomfarms.com/
Smugtown Mushrooms https://www.smugtownmushrooms.com/