Interview with Charles and Jane Brosius

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  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript:
    Synopsis:
    Keywords:
  • The Brosius family's start in the Mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: I wanted to start off- just to ask you, to say a little bit about your early years
    Synopsis: Brosius begins by introducing his great grandfather's start in the mushroom business in 1892. He shares the history of the family farm through it's construction in the 1850s by the Pusey family and the many ways that mushroom growing has been done since his family started doing it.
    Keywords: Avondale Bank; Brosius Family; childhood; family history; Pusey Family; West Chester Bank & Trust Company; Wharton Business School
  • The Pomeroy & Delaware City Railroad Company on the Brosius farm
    Partial Transcript: Dad said to me "I can't give you the farm you're going to have to buy it"
    Synopsis: Brosius recounts how his great grandfather sold part of the farm to the The Pomeroy & Delaware City Railroad Company in exchange for the first rights to sell ice to the railroad from their own ice houses and to have a station built close to their home.
    Keywords: Clonmell Station; ice house; Pusey Summit; railroad; The Pomeroy & Delaware City Railroad Company
  • Quaker and Italian families in the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: "He did indeed succeed. He built a three story ice house there..."
    Synopsis: Brosius shares some of the constructions on the family farm including a railroad that was built through their property and large ice houses his great grandfather owned. He explains his family's marital connection to the Pusey and Phillip's families and his understanding as to why Quakers became the dominant mushroom growers.
    Keywords: ice house; Italian; Philips Family; Pusey Family; Quakers
  • Mushrooms during the Great Depression
    Partial Transcript: Do you have a sense of what caused that economic and that ownership transition?
    Synopsis: Brosius explains the role of mushrooms and mushroom farming during the Great Depression within his family. He shows a photo of his grandfather and his Ford Model T full of mushroom baskets from around 1924.
    Keywords: Ford Motor Company; Great Depression; Model T
  • Being a child in a mushroom family and the continuation of the farm
    Partial Transcript: Actually this makes me want to ask a little bit about those generations...
    Synopsis: Brosius describes to Williams some of his experiences growing up on a primarily dairy farm and how he didn't enjoy working in the mushroom houses; the mushrooms were only grown in the winter during Charlie's childhood and slowly became more dominate by the 1960s.
    Keywords: childhood; dairy farm; Dairy Husbandry; Penn State University of Pennsylvania
  • Mushrooms in West Marlborough Township
    Partial Transcript: It's hard work, yeah.
    Synopsis: Brosius explains what kind labor goes into mushroom growing and how difficult it is in addition to what mushroom growing in West Marlborough Township used to be like in his youth. He also mentions the formation of Mushroom Grower's Cooperative.
    Keywords: labor; Mushroom Grower's Cooperative; mushroom house
  • The many backgrounds of mushroom farmers
    Partial Transcript: I was just curious. When you were saying that there were seventeen mushroom farms.
    Synopsis: Brosius recounts some of the mushoom growers in West Marlborough Township from his childhood as well as how some new growers got into the business; the family of Italian immigrants, the Vattalanos, lived on one of the Brosius' family farms and started their own small growing operation. He speaks to some of the different national origins of mushroom laborers.
    Keywords: childhood; immigration; labor; West Marlborough Township
  • Changing ownership and labor forces in the industry
    Partial Transcript: Uh, as soon as those government programs became available
    Synopsis: Brosius reflects on the origins and changes in both the farm ownership as well as on the predominate labor forces in the industry during his lifetime. He discusses some of what his family did in order to address the language differences in working with Spanish-speaking mushroom pickers. Brosius' wife, Jane, also mentions on how the newest labor force of Mexican immigrants and their families are moving into the communities not as temporary help but are creating their own businesses and sending their children to college.
    Keywords: education; family owned business; government assistance programs; immigration; labor; labor forces
  • The building of the Brosius' home
    Partial Transcript: But I don't know. I don't know I'd say...
    Synopsis: Brosius recounts on how his current home was built by a crew of Mexicans who had also worked in his mushroom houses as pickers; they had other construction skills such as stone masonry and carpentry from previous jobs. He explains where the original frame of the house came from as well as mentions the area's brief time as place for cattle farming.
    Keywords: cattle farming; construction; home; immigration; ranching; Santa Gertrudis cattle
  • Changes in land ownership in Chester County
    Partial Transcript: It sounds like- it sounds like there was a lot changing in agriculture in the area
    Synopsis: Brosius explains one of the major changes in land ownership in the area; a wealthy New York banker named Plunkett Stewart bought up foreclosed farmland during the Great Depression. Stewart would allow farmers to live on the land as long as their homes were habitable; the Brosius' live in a home that is on former Stewart land. Much of the land is now a part of the Brandywine Conservancy.
    Keywords: agriculture; Brandywine Conservancy; Great Depression; land ownership; land poor; Plunkett Stewart
  • Asia's introduction to the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: This is far from mushrooms.
    Synopsis: Brosius reiterates how his family survived the Great Depression through their mushroom sales rather than their original dairy farm operation. He goes on to explain his understanding of how Asia; specifically how the United States Government helped China and Taiwan become active in the mushroom industry after World War II.
    Keywords: China; mushroom canning; Mushroom CoOp Canning; mushroom processing; Taiwan; USAID Program; World War II
  • The appearance of "X Disease"/selling the dairy farm/what was done about "X Disease"
    Partial Transcript: There was a disease, an unknown disease called "X Disease".
    Synopsis: Brosius describes the effect that the unknown and destructive "X Disease" had on the mushroom industry in the 1950s and 1960s. The Brosius' decided to sell their diary cows in order to build their mushroom plant which made the "X Disease" much more of a critical issue for them. Brosius explains that the mushroom growers decided to try an air filtration system; they funded a research project by Dr. Marsh Schrader and Dr. James Sinden at Penn State University which created a system that is still used in mushroom houses today.
    Keywords: "X Disease"; air conditioning; airborn diseases; dairy farm; Dairy Husbandry; James W. Sinden; Marsh Schrader; mushroom disease; Newcastle Disease; Penn State University; Phillips Family; poultry farm; Pusey Family; refrigeration
  • The beginning of the Mushroom Grower's Association and Charlie's participation
    Partial Transcript: My dad had been a director down at the Mushroom CoOp Canning Company
    Synopsis: Brosius tells of his time as a director of the Mushroom Grower's Association as he replaced his father after he became too sick to serve in the position; he was the only one on the board to have a college education. After serving as a director he was asked to run for president and replaced Charles Ciarocchi.
    Keywords: Charles Ciarocchi; James W. Sinden; Mushroom CoOp Canning Company; Mushroom Grower's Association; The Brown Derby; Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania
  • The transition to growing and selling brown mushrooms in the 1960s
    Partial Transcript: So at just about the same time an Italian named Louis LeScabora...
    Synopsis: There was a change in the mushroom market to include brown mushrooms in the 1960s and 1970s due to a new spawn from France brought to the area by Louis LeScabora. Brosius recounts that LeScabora gave him brown mushroom spawn and asked him to grow a little of it to see how it grew; when tested with white mushrooms, it was the only spawn that grew because of the ongoing industry issue with "X Disease". Brosius grew all brown mushrooms the next season and had trouble convincing anyone to buy them because there was only a market for white mushrooms; he convinced Kennett Canning Company to take them for fifteen cents a pound.
    Keywords: "X Disease"; brown mushrooms; Kennett Canning Company; Louis LeScabora; market changes; mushroom spawn; Portobello mushroom
  • New markets for mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: Was that another thing, I mean because it sounds like
    Synopsis: As the market demand for mushrooms changed, so did the places of sale. Brosius describes the lack of white mushrooms in the market during and after the "X Disease" crisis; only small operations were able to provide them without losing their crops to the disease which led to heavy mushroom competition in the Philadelphia area and made larger growers like the Brosius and Phillips families to start selling their mushrooms elsewhere. Brosius started selling his mushrooms at the Hunts Point Terminal Market thanks to a trucking company he worked with run by a man named Charlie Price and his associate Jack Applegate.
    Keywords: "solicitor"; Boston, Massachusetts; brown mushrooms; Charlie Price; Hunts Point Terminal Market; Jack Applegate; New York City, New York; New York World's Fair; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Phillips Family; South Bronx, New York; white mushrooms; wholesale markets
  • Selling mushrooms at the Hunts Point Produce Market in New York
    Partial Transcript: And for some reason or other I came home I picked up the Wall Street Journal
    Synopsis: Brosius recalls the purchase of his first tractor trailer in the late 1970s and some of his experiences selling at the Hunts Point Terminal Market. They would sell mushrooms at the market five nights a week: one truckload Sunday through Thursday for twenty one years and two truckloads before major holidays. He also got involved with two men who were selling mushrooms into New York chain stores which widened Brosius' demand even further.
    Keywords: Hunts Point Terminal Market; mushroom market; South Bronx, New York; transportation
  • Changes in mushroom packaging
    Partial Transcript: We had gotten picked up in New York City for lightweight, short weight
    Synopsis: Brosius explains that shipping mushrooms to New York became expensive due to the constant fines from the New York Department of Weights and Measures; mushrooms continue to grow and "expire" after they are picked which caused them to change weight in their paper packaging by the time they arrived in New York for sale. To fix the constant fines, Brosius sought out a new plastic tray design that would insure that the mushrooms would keep their weight for the quality control check in New York. Brosius also noticed the several Korean customers that would buy trays of mushrooms for their family stores and added the words "Fresh Mushrooms" in Korean to his packaging to market towards them specifically.
    Keywords: "lightweight"; "shortweight"; Agway; Chester County Department of Weights and Measures; mushroom packaging; New York City Department of Weights and Measures; New York City, New York; shipping; shipping fines
  • The mushroom industry's relationship with Penn State University
    Partial Transcript: Well that's really interesting. So it sounds like, so you talked about supplying the canning market...
    Synopsis: The Brosius' explain to Williams the importance of Penn State University to both the industry as a whole and to the two of them personally. The college was the first place that taught mushroom growing to anyone who wanted to learn; before Penn State the business was passed down almost exclusively through family members. Dr. Leon Kneebone took over the mushroom work at Penn State after Dr. Sinden left to pursue research in Sweden. Brosius recalls the creation of a one million dollar Penn State endowment for university-level mushroom research; they contributed 140,000 to the endowment themselves. He comments on the downsides of university research as well when it comes to profit-sharing from successful discoveries.
    Keywords: canned mushrooms; Charles Schrader; fresh mushrooms; Giorgio Foods Inc; James W. Sinden; John Swayne; Leon Kneebone; Penn State Department of Plant Pathology; Penn State University; Swayne Family; Temple University; verticillium; World War II
  • On working for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
    Partial Transcript: You wanted to know about my experience in Harrisburg
    Synopsis: Brosius reflects on how he came to be the Secretary of Agriculture for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and on his time spent in the position (1995-97). He was very reluctant to take the position after being asked several times by various friends, such as Earl Baker who was a former Chester County Commissioner who worked with Brosius who later became a state senator and advocated for Brosius to take the position. Brosius finally accepted the job after a two hour private meeting with Governor Tom Ridge who once again urged him to take the offer. He came to understand that he was in the middle of other's back door political deals and struggled with this aspect of the job.
    Keywords: agriculture; Dennis Grumbine; Earl Baker; Fred Giorgio; free trade zone; Governor Ridge; Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center; politics; Republican; Tom Ridge
  • The importance of bipartisanship
    Partial Transcript: My grandfather- my mother grew up down in Milford, Delaware
    Synopsis: Brosius clarifies how he was raised with the idea that political affiliation was not as important as the people involved and the ideas that those individuals stood for were; part of the reason he struggled as the Secretary of Agriculture was that he was expected to hire and fire people based on their political party rather than the merits of their work. He tells a story about his secretary, a democratic woman in a republican office, who was the best secretary he had ever had because she was able to do her job well without associating politics with her work.
    Keywords: bipartisanship; democrat; Franklin Roosevelt; government aid programs; Great Depression; Milford, Delaware; republican; social security
  • Experiences in the Pennsylvania State Department of Agriculture
    Partial Transcript: But I never heard of anybody again. But Sue was a Democrat.
    Synopsis: Jane Brosius speaks to what she believes Charles Brosius was able to accomplish in his time as the Secretary of Agriculture for Pennsylvania.
    Keywords: bipartisanship; budget cuts; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; Secretary of Agriculture; spending cuts
  • Avian Flu in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s
    Partial Transcript: What were the big issues in agriculture in the mid to late nineties
    Synopsis: Brosius reveals some of the major issues in Pennsylvania agriculture during his time as Secretary; there was a large outbreak of Avian Influenza throughout the state which called for the "depopulation" and sterilization of large scale poultry farms. Due to political pull through campaign contributions, as Brosius describes, the Avian Influenza outbreak was not taken care of properly. This is one of the issues that caused Brosius to leave the position. Samuel E. Hayes, Jr. finished Brosius' term after he left.
    Keywords: "depopulate"; agricultural issues; Avian Flu; Avian Influenza; Berks County, Pennsylvania; Bird Flu; campaign contributions; Charles Van Buskirk; Dennis Grumbine; Fulton County, Pennsylvania; Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center; political campaign; politics; poultry farming; poultry vaccination; Samuel E. Hayes, Jr.
  • The Brosius' start in the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: Um- Uh, one of them is to go and sort of take us back to the beginning
    Synopsis: The Brosius' explain some of the jobs that they had to take on to keep their farm alive. Jane Brosius went from house to house teaching women how to use new electronic household devices such as washers and dryers as well as worked as a substitute school teacher. Although they had collective reservations about getting into the mushroom industry, Charles Brosius decided to go and work for his father picking mushrooms for the extra income.
    Keywords: dairy farm; family farm; labor issues; mushroom picking; poverty
  • Reflections on living a life in agriculture / technological advances in Brosius' lifetime
    Partial Transcript: Well anyway that was a transition period there
    Synopsis: Brosius describes the ways that he is still involved with the mushroom industry; he goes to the farm and offers advice but only when asked by his sons. He also reflects on the technological advances in the industry during his life and how the growing process is totally different now than it was when he was active in the industry; Brosius recounts having steel conveyors built by a local man named Billy Ruth who wouldn't allow Brosius to pay the whole price for the work he did. Ruth told Brosius that Brosius' grandfather helped his grandfather escape on the Underground Railroad.
    Keywords: automated labor; automatic machinery; Billy Ruth; Joe Ruth; manual labor; Marsh Schrader; right of passage; slavery; technological advances; technology; Underground Railroad
  • Why Chester County became a mushroom capitol/importance of education in the business
    Partial Transcript: I guess my last sort of big question relates to why mushrooms
    Synopsis: Brosius reflects on and explains his understanding as to why Chester County, Pennsylvania became such a major mushroom capitol. He explains how the 500 mushroom farms that were once present in the area have consolidated into 62 farms; these farms are dominated by Italian families and are deeply rooted within those families according to Brosius.
    Keywords: Chester County, Pennsylvania; family business; high school education; higher education; Italian; Penn State University; Phillips Family; Quaker; small business; West Chester University
  • Agriculture dying out as a family trade
    Partial Transcript: Has there been, I mean, you've described a bit about
    Synopsis: Agriculture has been a part of the Brosius family for generations and now in modern day the youngest members of the family are moving out of the trade; Brosius describes the other jobs that his grandchildren have, none of which are in the field of mushrooms or agriculture.
    Keywords: community; competition; family business; higher education; Italian; Kennett Square, Pennsylvania; Quaker; small business; trade school
  • The Brosius' reflect on the gender divisions/labor conditions in the industry
    Partial Transcript: Can I ask you a few questions about your experience
    Synopsis: The Brosius' describe the roles of women in the industry in the past, including the role that Jane Brosius played in their family operation, as well as how the role of women has changed in recent years. He outlines the way that the hiring works for mushroom pickers and some of their payment details and how labor works within the mushroom houses in general.
    Keywords: Altoona, Pennsylvania; dairy farming; family business; farm work; feminism; gender roles; gendered labor; immigration; labor; labor conditions; machismo; mushroom packing; women's work
  • Stewardship of Baltasar Tena
    Partial Transcript: Before we went home for the holiday I came back and he had this kid with him
    Synopsis: The Brosius' recount their stewardship of Baltasar Tena in the 1980s; Tena migrated to Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania as a fourteen year old boy, alone, from Mexico after being asked to do from his father. Charles Brosius took him in as his "shadow" and worked with him in exchange for food and shelter until he was old enough to work independently. They allowed Tena and his family to live in a guest house until he could afford a home of his own.
    Keywords: Baltasar Tena; bilingual; English; English as a second language (ESL); immigration; labor; Mexico; migration; Spanish; Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania; University of Delaware
  • Family education/how Charles and Jane Brosius met
    Partial Transcript: Dad had built the mushroom houses after he had come back from California
    Synopsis: Brosius describes some of his father's early years and education, along with that of his aunts and uncles. The Brosius' conclude with how the two of them met at Penn State University at the Diary department's Cattle Show.
    Keywords: automobiles; California; Cattle Show; Coatesville, Pennsylvania; Detroit Auto School; education; higher education; migration; Penn State University; railroad; University of Delaware; University of Pennsylvania; West Chester University