Interview with Clinton and Rosa Blackwell

Hagley ID:
  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript: We're in southeastern Pennsylvania, so with that out of the way
  • R. Blackwell's family history / mushroom industry culture in the early 1900s
    Partial Transcript: I was hoping that you could give us a brief sketch of your biography
    Synopsis: R. Blackwell gives a brief summary of her family's origins in the industry and what it was like to be born into it. Both C. and R. describe part of the communal and hardworking culture of mushroom growing.
    Keywords: child; childhood; community; family business; family dynamics; Hockessin, Del.; manual labor; marriage; mushroom grower; mushroom house; mushroom packer; parent; Toughkenamon, Pa.; women's work
  • Technological and growing technique improvements
    Partial Transcript: Well let me back it up for a second
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell shares some of the technological shifts within the industry; the largest one being the addition of air conditioning and temperature control in the mushroom houses that he remembers came after he started in 1969. He mentions other additions to the process such as composting practices
    Keywords: "cook out"; air conditioning; compost; cooling; Ford truck; HVAC; mass production; mushroom house; phase two composting; rental property; seasonal growing; seasonal produce; technological advancements; technology; temperature control; thermostat
  • Mushroom growers and the surrounding community
    Partial Transcript: It was strange times back then compared to the way it is now
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell recalls going into business with his father-in-law in rented mushroom houses. He continues to speak about buying into a new compost wharf business named Laurel Valley Farms which helped with community relationships; there were constant complaints about smells directed at individual growers.
    Keywords: 1948 Ford F5; Avondale, Pa.; compost; compost wharf; entrepreneur; Ford 8N Tractor; Laurel Valley Farms; mushroom co-op; mushroom house; pollution; rental property
  • Laurel Valley Farms and composting
    Partial Transcript: Yes, and to clarify when you say Dutch you mean Netherlands
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell lists some of the compost ingredients and their origins that are used in Laurel Valley Farms compost. R. Blackwell mentions how outsourcing the composting process and using "phase two" compost makes abiding by environmental protection laws easier for individual farmers.
    Keywords: "tunnel"; compost; compost ingredients; corporate farms; Delaware; environmental concerns; environmental protection laws; increase in production; Laurel Valley Farms; market demand; mass production; Netherlands; phase one compost; phase two compost; pollution; poultry industry; supply and demand; The Hershey Company; waste water
  • Laurel Valley Farms and composting pt. 2
    Partial Transcript: And all those five farms are much larger than ours were when we started in 1979
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell continues the discussion of the composting process, this time focusing on the aeration and "tunnel" process which is done to get rid of any ammonia in the mixture and prepare it for pasteurization.
    Keywords: "tunnel"; aerobic composting; compost; family farm; Laurel Valley Farms; phase two compost
  • Blackwell children / composting pt. 3
    Partial Transcript: When we were first married and the family would get together
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell mentions that his two children manage the family business now that he is retired. He continues to explain the composting and spawning process and some of the businesses that used to make and sell compost like Laurel valley Farms does; R. Blackwell emphasizes the importance of the casing layer to the growing process and how they used to use sifted topsoil before discovering peat moss.
    Keywords: casing; Chester County, Pa.; child; children; compost wharf; Country Fresh Mushroom Co.; family business; family dynamics; family farm; grain spawn; Kaolin Compost; Kaolin Mushroom Farms; marriage; mushroom co-op; mushroom growers; parent; peat moss; retirement; siblings; Southmills Compost; spawn; topsoil
  • Mushroom farming and farming chemicals / pests in the mushroom house
    Partial Transcript: So, um, what are some of the differences between the mushroom growing side
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell reflects on some of the heavy pesticides and insecticides that were regularly used in mushroom growing in the early days before the EPA and the FDA recognized the dangers of these chemicals. He shares some of the chemical and pest control adjustments that they've made to stay in compliance with the regulations as well as the types of second and third party inspections that the houses are subject to.
    Keywords: agriculture; DDT; Environmental Protection Agency; environmental protection laws; farming; flies; food safety; insecticides; inspections; mushroom composting; mushroom flies; mushroom growing; mushroom house; pest control; pesticides; pollution; rodents; spawn; spawning; United States Army; United States Military; waste water
  • Cost increases in mushroom growing
    Partial Transcript: If you go back about twenty years ago
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell explains several of the ways that mushroom growing has dramatically increased in price for the grower since he began in the business; abiding by new regulations, changing chemicals, labor and labor insurance as well as drastically more expensive compost, spawn and casing materials.
    Keywords: botulism; cleanliness; Department of Agriculture; Department of Health; environmental safety; farming; food poisoning; food safety; grain spawn; inspection; insurance; labor; liability insurance; listeria; mushroom supplement; OSHA; peat moss; phase one compost; phase two compost; price increase; regulation; spawn; transportation; worker safety
  • Pennsylvania State University research and test lab
    Partial Transcript: Penn state came up with that whole concept of supplementing at spawning
    Synopsis: R. and C. Blackwell briefly mention a few of the contributions of Penn State to the industry.
    Keywords: mushroom growing; Penn State; Pennsylvania State University; plant pathologist; plant pathology; research; technological advancement; test farm
  • Transition to selling at the fresh market
    Partial Transcript: So we were talking about uh, Rosa has some family
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell speaks to the shift from selling processed canned mushrooms to selling fresh ones; he includes how the botulism scare from canned mushrooms in the 1970s impacted the change. Part of this, as well, includes China's export of canned mushrooms that they can sell cheaper than American farmers can.
    Keywords: bankruptcy; botulism; cannery; canning; child; China; Crimini mushroom; Delaware Co-Op; fresh market; import; processed mushrooms; processing plant; white mushroom; Wilmington, Del.
  • Immigration and labor in the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: And about how many of them were in Chester County versus how many were down in New Castle
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell gives insight into the evolution of immigrant labor in the industry; for years, picking work has been done by different immigrant groups that have eventually become growers as they've learned the trade from picking. He continues to explain the difficulties with labor shortages, the issues that anti-immigration laws have on the industry as well as how payroll works for pickers.
    Keywords: Cecil County, Md.; Chester County, Pa.; immigrant; immigrant labor; immigration; immigration reform; Italian; Mexican; Mexican - owned; New Castle, Del.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Puerto Rican; Quaker; undocumented immigrant; wages
  • C. Blackwell's family history
    Partial Transcript: If we could step back a little bit and talk about
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell shares his family history; he references his time in the Navy during the Vietnam War and how he went into business with his father-in-law after marrying R. Blackwell . He talks about how the 1980s were financially a turbulent time for the industry and many growers declared bankruptcy; C. Blackwell went into home construction for a time to pay off dept and keep his farm running.
    Keywords: 1982 Mushroom Industry Financial Crisis; bankruptcy; children; Delaware; family; family business; family dynamic; home construction; marriage; mushroom grower; United States Navy; Vietnam War
  • Immigration reforms / early labor force
    Partial Transcript: But the, uh, immigration hearings that came later
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell goes into detail about the impacts and importance of immigration on the industry; immigration is vital, especially now, to the work force and the overall functionality of the farms. They both speak about the mushroom organizations, such as the AMI, and their role in lobbying for the industry.
    Keywords: American Mushroom Institute (AMI); amnesty; Canadian Mushroom Growers Association; familial labor; family; immigration; immigration reform; Immigration Reform and Control Act; labor; labor force; lobby; lobbying; Mexican; Mushroom Council; North American Mushroom Conference; Puerto Rican; Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004; undocumented immigrant; work ethic
  • Taking over the family business / C. Blackwell's military service
    Partial Transcript: So how have these trade organizations
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell recalls going through a stressful period of learning how to be a mushroom grower with his father-in-law, and then taking over the business after his father-in-law's untimely death. Upon being asked if his military experience helped him as a grower in any way, he shares how his deployment orders changed before was sent to Vietnam and he traveled the east coast as part of the Navy's band.
    Keywords: Agent Orange; American Mushroom Institute (AMI); CJ Mushroom Company; death of a parent; deployment; family; family business; lobby; military service; Mushroom Council; Paloni & Blackwell; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; United States Navy; Vietnam War; war; Washington, D. C.
  • Their first child / Blackwell specialty growing processes / passing the business to their children
    Partial Transcript: I was used to the mushroom industry
    Synopsis: C. and R. Blackwell share the story of their first daughter who was born in 1968 with severe brain damage; at the age fifty, she is nonverbal and, according to R. Blackwell, has the mentality of a three or four year old. C. Blackwell continues to speak about the types of mushrooms and growing process that they followed. Together, they explain how they passed their business onto their children.
    Keywords: agaricus bisporus; brain damage; child; childhood; growing process; hierarchy; mushroom house; parent; passing on the family business; retire; retirement; white mushrooms
  • Cultural differences within the industry
    Partial Transcript: It seems like a lot of the ethinic groups
    Synopsis: C. and R. Blackwell speak to some of the cultural differences between those of different ethnic backgrounds within the industry; how they seem to manage their businesses differently from one another and how the old time community and neighborly aspects of mushroom growers has long since been gone.
    Keywords: business management; community; compost; Italian; language learning; Laurel Valley Farms; Mexican; mushroom compost; mushroom grower; mushroom house; Quaker; Spanish language; translator
  • The need for human labor
    Partial Transcript: Uh, with the labor shortage, is that driving increased mechanization in the industry
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell explains why human labor is still necessary in the industry over mechanizing the growing and harvesting processes like it is in parts of Europe.
    Keywords: cannery; Chester County, Pa; Country Fresh; farm machine; farming tools; fresh market; frozen food; harvesting machines; labor; labor shortage; Laurel Valley Farms; machine; processed food; processed mushrooms; spawn; technological advancements; technology; working conditions
  • Mushroom consumption
    Partial Transcript: Are either one of you familiar with any kind of farming at all?
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell highlights the differences between mushroom consumption in the United States and the rest of the world, where it is exceptionally higher. He lists some of the different ways that the Mushroom Council has worked to incorporate mushrooms into new products to boost demand such as the mushroom and beef blended burger.
    Keywords: "blend ability"; agriculture; Country Fresh Mushrooms; family business; farming; fresh market; greenhouse; grocery store; market demand; mushroom burgers; mushroom consumption; Mushroom Council; mushroom products; perishable; price increase; produce; small business; small business owner; supply and demand
  • The cost of business operation
    Partial Transcript: I'm gonna ask you to get a little philosophical for a second
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell shares the highest operation costs for mushroom growers including labor and electricity. He discusses the not-as-profitable uses of renewable energy in the industry and the general difficulty of making enough money to cover rising operations costs.
    Keywords: agriculture; Chester County, Pa.; compost; Country Fresh Mushrooms; HVAC; Kennett Square, Pa.; labor costs; Laurel Valley Farms; operations cost; raw materials; renewable energy; solar power; temperature control; weather
  • Changes in the industry over time
    Partial Transcript: What would you say is the single largest or most important change
    Synopsis: The Blackwells reflect on the largest changes over their time in the industry; the recognize the largest change to be the improvement and development of the growth process.
    Keywords: agriculture; bankruptcy; change over time; compost; entrepreneur; evolution; evolution of process; family farming; farming; foreign labor; growing process; immigrant; Kaolin Mushroom Farms Inc.; labor; labor force; labor issues; labor management; mushroom composting; mushroom growing; OSHA; strike; sustainability; technological advancements; unionization; walk-out
  • The difficulties with labor management
    Partial Transcript: So we've talked a little bit about
    Synopsis: C. Blackwell describes the challenges that come with the evolution of the labor force that he has seen since he started in the industry in the 1960s; the industry struggles with wage competition, unionization, strikes and labor consistency.
    Keywords: agriculture; fair wage; family farming; farming; foreign labor; growing process; immigrant; Kaolin Mushroom farms Inc.; labor; labor force; labor issues; labor management; mushroom growing; OSHA; strike; unionization; wages; walk-out
  • Antitrust litigation / end of interview
    Partial Transcript: So is there anything that I haven't asked you that
    Synopsis: The Blackwells end the interview speaking about the industry's attempt to fix the prices of mushrooms and the twenty-plus-years-long antitrust litigation suits that they are still collectively dealing with.
    Keywords: American Mushroom Institute (AMI); antitrust laws; antitrust litigation; child; children; class-action suit; family dynamics; family farm; Laurel Valley Farms; legal action; monopoly; Mushroom Antitrust Litigation; Mushroom Council; retirement; siblings