Oral history interviews on cultivated mushroom industry

About this collection

    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.
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    Image: A box of assorted mushrooms held by Kristine Ellor of Phillips Mushrooms.

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Interview with Peter Alonzo
In this interview Alonzo talks about his family's history in the mushroom industry. He describes the production of compost for mushroom growth and how it has changed over time. He talks about how his family's business grew from the 1940s to the present day. He talks about the political situation in the United States and how the Wal Mart in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania was built on land he sold to them. Alonzo talks about the role of Pennsylvania State University and the American Mushroom Industry in mushroom education and promotion repspectively.
Interview with James A. Angelucci
In this interview, Angelucci discusses his experiences growing up in an Italian mushroom-growing family, his time with the military during the Vietnam War, his reluctant return to mushrooms after his release from the service, and his long career at Phillips Mushroom Farms starting in the early 1970s, where he was a key player in the company's turn toward specialty/exotic mushrooms and organics. He also discusses his longstanding affiliation with the American Mushroom Institute, the Mushroom Short Course at Penn State University, and other groups devoted to promoting mushroom production and consumption.
Interview with Clinton and Rosa Blackwell
In this interview Clinton and Rosa Blackwell describe their lives in the mushroom business. Rosa Blackwell talks about the mushroom industry that existed in New Castle County, Delaware. Clinton Blackwell talks about his training as a carpenter and a builder and how he became a mushroom grower after his carpentry business failed. Blackwell and his father-in-law started the business in 1969, before then he had no experience with mushrooms, after his father-in-law died in 1973 he ran the business on his own, and describes how difficult it was to run a business with only four years of experience. Clinton and Rosa Blackwell explain how the costs of doing business have changed as has mushroom growing technology, and the labor force. Clinton Blackwell talks about the manufacture and sale of compost for growing mushrooms.
Interview with Tyler Blackwell and Carla McKinney
In this interview, Mckinney and Blackwell talk about their lives in the mushroom industry. They talk about growing up and working with their father, Clinton Blackwell. They also talk about how the mushroom industry has changed since they started working in the industry in the early and mid 2000s.
Interview with Charles and Jane Brosius
In this interview, the Brosiuses reflect on their family history with mushrooms, their experiences in the mushroom industry, the challenges and frustrations of agricultural policy and politics in Pennsylvania, and changes in the labor situation in the mushroom industry.
Interview with John and Sara Cordivano
In this interview, the Cordivano's reflect on their longstanding involvement in the mushroom industry, from their experiences growing up in mushroom families, to John's experience with making better mushroom compost. John Cordivano describes his family entering the business and his own work for several mushroom companies over the years (Cordivano Brothers, John Swayne, a farm in Maryland, Oxford Royal, Laurel Valley) and the various jobs he performed there. Sara Cordivano, talks about her experience in mushrooms, converting a dairy barn into their personal mini mushroom farm, managing the marketing for it, and describes their children getting involved, but eventually moving on to careers they desired.
Interview with Kristine "Tina" Ellor
In this interview, Tina Ellor discusses her personal journey to her place in the mushroom industry of Chester Country; she explains her passion for mushrooms and their health benefits. Ellor reflects on cultural differences between America and other parts of the world when it comes to the attitudes towards and the uses of mushrooms in everyday life and on the growing and processing of different kinds of mushrooms.
Interview with Gale Ferranto
In this interview Ferranto talks about her role as President of Buona Foods Incorporated, she explains that before coming to the mushroom business she had a career in the children's fashion industry. She talks about how her mother founded the company and the dayd to day responsiblites of running it. Ferranto talks about promoting mushroom consumption and her company's role at the Pennsylvania Farm show. She elaborates on the Pennsylvania Farm Show and explains how her company runs the mushroom industry booth at the foodcourt. Ferranto talks about the challenges of being a woman in the mushroom industry and other women who have held leadership postions in mushroom farms, the American Mushroom Institute, and the Mushroom Council.
Interview with Robert "Bear" Ferranto
In this interview Ferranto (1938) Talks about his career in the mushroom industry. He explains that shortly after graduating from Pennsylvania State University, he became discouraged by low prices on mushrooms so he left the industry in 1963 and returned in 1988 to help run the growing company started by his wife, Rosemarie Ferranto, in 1972. He talks about how that company, Buona Foods Incorporated has grown over the decades and currently grows its own mushrooms, works a brokerage with other famers selling mushrooms to retailers, and promotes mushroom consumption. He also talks about the Pennsylvania Farm Show and how his family's company has operated the mushroom industry's booth at the food court since the 1970s.
Interview with Emidio "Junior" and Barbara Frezzo
In this interview, the Frezzo's describe the family's path toward the mushroom business in the early 20th century, the growing business Frezzo got started with his family's assistance, the growth of the family business and changes in machinery and technology, the shift from canned to fresh mushrooms, Frezzo's work advising the Kennet Square Bank on loan applications from mushroom growers, his time in the peat moss business, and their travels to the annual mushroom conference.
Interview with Dominic Manfredini
In this interview, Dominic Manfredini reflects on his lifelong career in the mushroom growing industry, including the range of companies he owned. Manfredini inherited the family business from his father he also talks about his business travels to New York and Italy. Manfredini's interview covers the period 1946 to 2018, revealing how consumer tastes, farming technology, and scientific innovations changed business practices for mushroom growers over the course of 70 years.
Interview with Donald and Artie Needham
In their interview, father and son Donald "Buster" and Arthur Needham explain their individual and familial involvements in the mushroom industry. D. Needham gives an overview of the industry beginning in the 1960s; he references international competition with new mushroom growers at the time in East Asia. A. Needham talks about the health concerns that arose out of the smell that comes with mushroom composting that is, while potent\u2014harmless, and how that affected the farm\u2019s relationship with the local residential community. He speaks about their farm\u2019s interaction with composters from abroad, many coming from the Netherlands and how they implemented European technologies in their composting process. Both A. and D. Needham speak at length about the difficulties that the industry has with the labor pool and the shifts within it. With the large portion of the current labor pool being Mexican immigrants, the pair also speak about immigration and immigration reform.
Interview with Donald and Marshall Phillips
In this interview, the Phillips' discuss their early experiences growing up in a mushroom family, their training at Penn State University, their leadership of the company, the move into exotic mushroom production, and the challenges and rewards of growing mushrooms.
Interview with Sonny Pizzini
In this interview Pizzini talks about his involvement in all aspects of the mushroom industry. Pizzini explains that his father came to the United States in 1930 and started his own mushroom farm shortly thereafter. He says that he still does some consulting with his company, Leone Pizzini and Son. In addition to talking about his business, Pizzini talks about growing mushrooms and producing mushroom compost. He also talks about his personal involvement in several mushroom industry related trade organizations and Pennsylvania State University's annual short course on mushrooms.
Interview with Keith Silfee
In this interview, Keith Silfee discusses his experience working at various small banks that provided loans for mushroom growers and other agricultural operations. Silfee describes how he worked at several different banks between 1981 and 2017, and often changed jobs upon his employer's acquisition by a larger bank. Silfee talks about his career as a loan officer and explains agriculural lending. Silfee compares and contrasts financial and banking regulations before and after the 2008 recession. Silfee explains why he likes his job and his lifelong interest in agriculture
Interview with John B. Swayne III
In this interview, Swayne tells the story of his family's move into mushrooms, his own upbringing in the industry, and his efforts to run his own company and improve the quality of mushroom spawn available.