Interview with Peter Alonzo

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  • Introduction / a brief history of mushrooms in the Alonzo family
    Partial Transcript: Okay, now we're recording
    Synopsis: Alonzo gives a brief history of his family's beginnings in the mushroom industry from 1938. His father moved from Lebanon, Pennsylvania to become mushroom business partners with a friend, Emidio Frezzo, in the Kennett Square area. After learning the business, eventually the partners amicably split; in 1962, Alonzo would take on his father's business that he established after the split. Before Alonzo's son took over his business in 1994, Alonzo expanded and grew more crops year-round as well as expanded the business's market reach.
    Keywords: business expansion; children; compost wharf; Cornwall, Pa.; Country Fresh; family business; family dynamic; family farm; Frezzo, Emidio, Sr.; generational business; grandparent; Kennett Square, Pa.; Laurel Valley Farms; Lebanon, Pa.; mass production; mushroom compost; mushroom growers; mushroom house; parent; Pietro Industries Inc; Prescott, Pa.; seasonal growing; small business owner; Vancouver, Canada
  • Innovations in growing mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: Now, the innovations in the mushroom industry started
    Synopsis: Alonzo walks through the steps in the mushroom spawning process and the ways that the spawning products have developed over the years with the help of Penn State's research facilities.
    Keywords: Carroll, Dave; fungus; Giorgio Fresh; grain spawn; hybrid spawn; Kneebone, Leon Phd.; mushroom compost; mushroom growing; mushroom house; mushroom spawn; mushroom spawning; mycelium; Pennsylvania State University; Schisler, Lee Phd.; spawn; tray mushroom farm
  • The composting process / mushroom co-op's versus corporations
    Partial Transcript: The mushroom industry has come a long way.
    Synopsis: Alonzo explains the three phases of composting and spawning compost that most of the rest of the world abides by, but many growers in the area do not follow. He also mentions the difference between mushroom co-ops and corporations; the former includes farmers who join forces to sell their product, while the later is a more separate business entity.
    Keywords: "tunnel"; compost; compost pasteurization; compost wharf; Country Fresh Mushroom Co.; increase in production; labor force; Laurel Valley Farms; mushroom co-op; phase one compost; phase three compost; phase two compost; spawn; spawning; taxation; taxes
  • Alonzo's interpretation of the area's beginning in the mushroom industry / labor and market changes
    Partial Transcript: If you wanna go start over again
    Synopsis: Alonzo recounts his understanding of the beginning of the mushroom industry in the area, starting with John Swayne growing mushrooms underneath his flowerbeds at the beginning of the century.
    Keywords: Brosius Family; canned mushrooms; canneries; China; community; fresh market; greenhouse grower; imported mushrooms; Italian; Italian labor; labor force; Mexican; mushroom growers; mushroom houses; mushroom industry; mycelium; Phillips Family; produce industry; Quaker; quarry; Reading, Pa.; seasonal crop; seasonal labor; Swayne Family; Swayne, John; transportation
  • Alonzo's grandparents
    Partial Transcript: Can I ask you a couple questions about yourself
    Synopsis: Alonzo talks about his grandparents and some of this father's early memories; after immigrating to West Virginia from Italy, Alonzo's grandmother decided to take her three children back to Italy to visit her family while Alonzo's grandfather took care of moving the family home to Lebanon, Pennsylvania. His grandmother died on the boat back to the United States and was buried at sea. Alonzo's father and siblings were taken care of by a neighbor family, the Scotti family, for years after that.
    Keywords: death of a family member; grandparent; illiterate; immigration; Italian; Italy; Lebanon, Pa.; parent; quarry; Schotti Family; Scotti Family; West Virginia
  • Pietro Industries Inc mushroom variety / development of mushroom house technology
    Partial Transcript: Well with your operation here, is there any particular type of mushroom
    Synopsis: Alonzo lists the types of mushrooms that Pietro Industries Inc regularly grows and takes to market as well as mentions some of the technological innovation that he has been a part of in the constant push to make the industry more efficient.
    Keywords: agaricus biosporus; brown mushroom; Crimini mushroom; HVAC; innovation; mass production; mushroom houses; non profit organization; Portabello mushroom; specialty mushrooms; temperature control; thermostat; white mushroom
  • How Alonzo and his son joined the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: The reason that I'm still in business is because my son
    Synopsis: Alonzo reflects on how he came into the mushroom industry unexpectedly to help his father who started to have a difficult time as he aged. He initially only planned to help his father for a year or two, but, upon realizing how profitable it was, decided to stay. He then shares a parallel story of how his own son got into the business; after leaving the restaurant industry feeling disgruntled, his son took a trip to Europe. There, upon his father's suggestion, he attended a class in Holland to learn how to grow mushrooms and loved it.
    Keywords: Allegheny College; business management; education; family business; family dynamics; family history; first job; Holland; international travel; LaSalle University; mushroom education; National Guard; Philadelphia, Pa.; the draft; travel; Vietnam War; Wilmington, Del.
  • Why the mushroom industry flourished in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
    Partial Transcript: Oh, yeah, there's a couple of things here.
    Synopsis: Alonzo explains his understanding as to why the mushroom industry has succeeded and stayed in the Kennett Square area. He attributes the success to Kennett's central location; historically it was a convenient transportation center for shipments up and down the east coast as well as close to all the raw materials needed for mushroom farming.
    Keywords: advertisement; American Mushroom Institute (AMI); Campbell's Soup Company; Clorox; compost wharf; contract labor; contractor; Dole Pineapple; illegal immigration; immigrant; immigration; Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; Kennett Square, Pa.; labor force; marketing; mushroom growing supplies; mushroom lobbying; politics; Purina; raw materials; Reagan, Ronald, 1911-2004; shipping; support network; Swayne Family; Swayne, John; transportation; transportation center; Trump, Donald, 1946-; undocumented immigrant
  • Selling land to Walmart
    Partial Transcript: Yeah, well actually before I go back to the list here
    Synopsis: Alonzo shares about how he sold a plot of land to Walmart in the 1990s after several years of litigation; he originally planned to built mushroom houses on the property but the township wouldn't approve permits for agricultural construction.
    Keywords: agriculture; land owner; land ownership; land sales; local economy; mushroom growing; selling property; Walmart
  • Mushroom organizations and the community
    Partial Transcript: A little bit about some of the institutions
    Synopsis: Alonzo breaks down some of the different mushroom-related organizations that lobby, improve and promote the industry, with the AMI being the biggest one. The AMI is responsible for several community events and fundraising opportunities that give back to the Kennett Square community, mostly through donations to local high schools and libraries.
    Keywords: advertisement; American Mushroom Institute (AMI); Avondale, Pa.; community fundraising; education; Kennett Square, Pa.; Kneebone, Leon Phd.; marketing; Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania; Mushroom Festival; Mushroom Scholarship; Penn State Short Course; Pennsylvania State University; spawn; union; Washington D.C.
  • Shifts over time in the industry / best and worst parts of mushroom growing / end of interview
    Partial Transcript: So, what would you say, over the course of your lifetime
    Synopsis: Alonzo finishes the interview by talking about the shifts in the industry over time and the best and worst parts of being a mushroom grower. He recognizes that is is a lot more difficult to be a successful small time farmer now - corporate farms are becoming more difficult to compete with. He never liked the long, demanding hours but loved the comradery between growers and the community that they built with one another. He mentions in his closing remarks that his son is currently in the process of building a farm outside of Shanghai in China as part of a deal with the Chester County Commissioner's office.
    Keywords: bankruptcy; Chester County Commissioner; Chester County, Pa.; child; children; China; community; comradery; corporate farm; farm construction; grain spawn; hybrid spawn; inflation; mushroom growers; outsourcing; parent; retirement; shifts over time; spawn supplement; work day; work ethic