Interview with Donald and Marshall Phillips

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  • Interview introductions / Phillips' family history with mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: So this is an oral history interview with Donald and Marshall Phillips
    Synopsis: Donald Phillip's father started growing mushrooms in the late 1920s after growing up working on the family dairy farm. Originally, his father and all growers at the time only produced one crop a year in the off-season of other, more important crops.
    Keywords: dairy farm; dairy husbandry; family business; family farm; family history; mushroom growing process
  • Phillips' interpretation as to why mushrooms became popular in Chester County
    Partial Transcript: Do you have a sense of why
    Synopsis: D. Phillips and M. Phillips discuss some of the reasons why they believe that the mushroom industry became so popular in Pennsylvania. They attribute its success to the proximity of all of the related supplies to the growers themselves which made the business easier to maintain.
    Keywords: convenience; family farm; labor force; mushroom compost; mushroom growing supplies; mushroom house; Reading, Pa.
  • Family beginnings in the industry / early growing techniques
    Partial Transcript: Well I think to back up there, we both went to Penn State.
    Synopsis: The Phillips brothers both attended Penn State University and graduated with agricultural-related degrees. They both eventually started growing in houses on land given to them by their father. Together they explain more in-depth about their father's mushroom houses and how they functioned during World War II; he kept ice in his mushroom houses and used fans to circulate the air during the 1940s before installing air conditioners.
    Keywords: agricultural economics; agricultural education; air conditioning; Avondale, Pa.; Brosius Family; Campbell's Soup Company; college; cooling mushroom houses; education; engineering degree; fraternity; fresh market; HVAC; Kennett Ice Company; mushroom house; mushroom packing; mushroom sales; New York City, Ny.; Pennsylvania State University; Philadelphia, Pa.; Pusey Family; Second World War; transportation; World War II
  • Selling to the fresh markets in Boston
    Partial Transcript: We got together and said maybe we ought to join forces and go into packaging
    Synopsis: D. Phillips reflects on his 1960s beginnings selling pre-packaged mushrooms in produce tills to grocery stores and markets in Boston, Massachusetts. No one had ever sold pre-packaged mushrooms in that way before, so the operation started off small. It quickly began to grow and M. Phillips joined the efforts; soon they were sending several trucks throughout the week and continued to do so for about 20 years into the 1980s.
    Keywords: Boston, Ma.; brown mushroom; grocery stores; mushroom baskets; mushroom growing; mushroom packaging; mushroom packing; Phillips Mushroom Company; produce tills; supply and demand; transportation; trucking company; white mushroom
  • Changes in market demand / different types of mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: And so were other growers doing - taking a similar approach
    Synopsis: The Phillips speak about how the market demand for mushrooms has changed over the years as well as the varieties of mushrooms that are demanded. There is more demand in the present day for fresh mushrooms over canned mushrooms which is a switch from the 1960-80s; they mention that canned mushrooms are now grown and canned in Asian countries like Taiwan and China.
    Keywords: brown mushrooms; canned mushrooms; China; fresh market; imported mushrooms; outsourcing; Portabello mushroom; pre-packaged mushrooms; Shiitake mushroom; Taiwan; white mushrooms
  • Phillips Mushroom Farms products and sales relationships
    Partial Transcript: And then we took the other step
    Synopsis: The Phillips brothers share examples of the types of other products that Phillips Mushroom Farms produces as well as their larger contracts with companies like Conagra and Wendy's.
    Keywords: Conagra Brands; dried mushrooms; food processing; frozen food; mushroom products; mushroom supplements; Phillips Mushroom Farms; prepared meals; small business owners; Wendy's fast food restaurant company
  • Selling specialty mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: So you've given me a bunch of really interesting examples
    Synopsis: Together the Phillips brothers explain how they entered the specialty mushroom market while more exotic mushrooms weren't heavily demanded. They also talk about the rates at which you have to grow and how they deal with excess product, some of which is selling to competitors who came up short for market.
    Keywords: "sideways" sales; food processing; fresh market; Kennett Square, Pa.; market domination; Miitake mushrooms; mushroom market; Phillips Mushroom Farms; Portabello mushrooms; Shiitake mushrooms; specialty mushrooms; supply and demand; transportation; white mushrooms
  • Sales competition / starting to sell specialty mushrooms pt. 2
    Partial Transcript: Are there downsides to you guys all being clustered in this area?
    Synopsis: M. Phillips briefly mentions that while being in close proximity to many other mushroom farms can be beneficial, it also can cause problems with competition for sales and labor. Both of them try to recall the dates that they began growing specialty mushrooms like Portabello and Shiitake.
    Keywords: competition; labor forces; Portabello mushrooms; Shiitake mushrooms; specialty mushrooms
  • Growing Shiitake mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: I'm interested I guess in learning a little bit more
    Synopsis: They start by sharing how, after the brothers merged to work together, their father didn't join their business. Their father worked by himself in his own houses until his sudden death in the 1960s. D. Phillips continues to share the extent of international travel, experimentation and troubleshooting that they did to develop Phillips Mushroom Farm's technique of growing Shiitake mushrooms on Oak sawdust.
    Keywords: American Mushroom Institute (AMI); death of a parent; England; European growing techniques; family business; family farm; generational skills; Holland; international travel; learning to grow mushrooms; Oak sawdust; Phillips Mushroom Farm; sawdust inoculation; Shiitake mushrooms; sudden death
  • Familial roles at Phillips Mushroom Farms
    Partial Transcript: You're better off talking to Pete.
    Synopsis: M. Phillips explains the roles at his three daughters and his three sons-in-law play within Phillips Mushroom Farms; his sons-in-law all have different business and operations roles on site and his daughters created and run "The Woodlands" which is the Phillips' own general store.
    Keywords: children; daughters; family business; family dynamics; family farm; marriage; mushroom products; The Woodlands at Phillips Mushroom Farms; working with family
  • Organic mushrooms and mushroom products
    Partial Transcript: Were there changes in people's taste in mushrooms
    Synopsis: The Phillips discuss some of the changes in consumer demand; both in variety, specialty and organic produce. It is much more complicated to grow organic mushrooms and because of this, there is a niche market open that many cannot sell to. Phillips is one of the few producers of certified organic mushrooms and it has been very profitable to the growth of the company.
    Keywords: brown mushrooms; consumer demand; health foods; Kristine Ellor; mushroom preference; mushroom products; niche market; organic; organic certification; organic mushrooms; pest control; pesticides; processed food; Publix; specialty mushrooms; supply and demand; Wegmans; white mushrooms; Whole Foods
  • Relationships with distributors
    Partial Transcript: I am interested in learning a bit more about
    Synopsis: The Phillips brothers reflect on some of the places that they sell their products and how they built their sales relationships, focusing heavily on the New England area.
    Keywords: Boston, Ma.; fresh market; labor cost; marketing; produce market; sales relationships
  • Marketing mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: It seems like it must be challenging working often with bug super market chains
    Synopsis: M. Phillips discusses how, unlike some larger produce brands, mushrooms are usually sold under a super market's brand and label rather than the grower's. While there can be product discrimination when it comes to buying name-brand over generic products, there isn't a name-brand line of mushrooms to compete with.
    Keywords: branding; generic; marketing; produce; produce industry; sales
  • Deciding to start a family business / brothers working together
    Partial Transcript: Do you guys also have a spawn lab here, too?
    Synopsis: D. Phillips speaks about the specialty mushroom spawn lab briefly before both brothers share how they decided to go into business together. They claim that they've worked well together because of their different skill-sets and constantly having a lot fo work to get done, which didn't leave any time for family issues to develop.
    Keywords: brothers; buying spawn; family business; family farm; mushroom growing; mushroom marketing; Phillips Mushroom Farms; sales; spawn; spawn lab; spawn production; specialty mushrooms
  • Pennsylvania State University and Phillips Mushroom Farms
    Partial Transcript: I wondered if you or if there were particular groups
    Synopsis: The Phillips brothers reflect on Penn State's role in not only their own educations which helped their farm succeed, but also the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology's impact on the industry as a whole.
    Keywords: agricultural education; American Mushroom Institute (AMI); education; Kneebone, Leon, Phd.; mushroom growing; Penn State Mushroom Short Course; Pennsylvania State University; Pennsylvania State University Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology; Phillips Mushroom Farms; sustainable agriculture
  • How the mushroom industry is different from other produce industries
    Partial Transcript: Are there things you would say are unique about the mushroom industry
    Synopsis: M. Phillips speaks to some of the ways that the mushroom industry is unique from other areas of agriculture; D. Phillips mentions the addition of technology in mushroom houses which allows for temperature control and year-round production.
    Keywords: cash crop; continuous production; mass production; mushroom growing; mushroom house; technology; temperature control
  • Labor in the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: I know that labor is a big concern in the industry as well
    Synopsis: Together, the Phillips brothers share the changes in the labor force that they've worked with since opening Phillips Mushroom Farms in 1962. The latest shift in finding labor is using labor contracting services which allow farms to hire and pay workers as they need them day-to-day.
    Keywords: automated labor; Baltimore, Md.; contract labor; fair wages; food processing; fresh market; frozen food; frozen mushrooms; hiring labor; labor; labor competition; labor contractor; labor forces; Mexican; Mexico; picking machines; Puerto Rican; Puerto Rico; Taiwan; Taiwanese; World War II
  • Shifts in the mushroom industry
    Partial Transcript: You've pointed to some of the changes that you've seen over your time
    Synopsis: D. Phillips explains several aspects of the mushroom industry that have changed over the years. He recognizes that mechanization within the mushroom houses themselves, like conveyor belts in the mushroom beds that speed up cleaning and filling them, as some of the biggest changes.
    Keywords: compost; farming equipment; fertilizer; machinery; mass production; mechanized mushroom beds; mushroom compost; mushroom house; mushroom netting; technological advancement; technology
  • Expanding Phillips Mushroom Farms over the years
    Partial Transcript: And have you managed, have you managed to
    Synopsis: M. Phillips articulates that the mushroom business has grown and changed over the years as more people have added mushrooms, especially fresh and organic mushrooms, to their diets. The demand for higher quality fresh and organic products have allowed Phillips Mushroom Farms to expand their facilities and market around the nation, which have brought its own challenges when it comes to shipping and transportation.
    Keywords: Boston, Ma.; canned mushrooms; contract transportation; fresh market; fresh produce; market demand; Maryland; mushroom markets; New York; organic mushrooms; organic produce; quality control; supply and demand; transportation
  • Three generations of the Phillips in the mushroom industry / end of interview
    Partial Transcript: Um, I was wondering if you could, if you had a sort of mushroom memory
    Synopsis: The Phillips brothers conclude the interview by sharing some of the ways that they've had mushrooms incorporated in their lives from childhood; though they explain that they didn't grow up eating them. They continue to explain the ways that their children and their grandchildren are getting involved, taking over and expanding parts of the family business as the two of them start to take a backseat role in operations.
    Keywords: Brosius Family; business expansion; childhood; children; college; education; family; family business; family dynamic; family farm; family life; grandchildren; Italian; parent; Quaker; retirement; Shiitake mushroom; Swayne Family; white mushrooms