Interview with Sonny Pizzini

Hagley ID:
  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript: Okay, so, we're recording
  • Life overview
    Partial Transcript: You said that you'd want to start with
    Synopsis: Pizzini gives a brief overview of his life and how he and his family became involved in the mushroom industry; his father grew up picking mushrooms in Italy so easily transitioned to doing so after he immigrated to North America. Eventually his father started growing for himself and Pizzini joined him after college. Later, he joined and led several mushroom organizations and has been very involved with the mushroom processing industry.
    Keywords: canned mushrooms; cannery; child; coal miner; coming to the United States; education; family business; family dynamics; family farm; fresh market; immigrant; immigration; imported mushrooms; industry beginnings; industry organizations; Italian; Italy; labor; Leone Pizzini & Son; mushroom broker; Mushroom Processors of America; North American Mushroom Conference; over-supply; parent; Penn State Short Course; Pennsylvania Food Processors; Pennsylvania State University; processed mushrooms; processing plant; Quaker; supply and demand; Swayne Family; Wilmington, Del.
  • Getting involved with the industry / international competition and importation
    Partial Transcript: So you said your family was from northern Italy?
    Synopsis: Pizzini shares where his family came from in Italy and where his father moved to when he immigrated and began to grow mushrooms. He explains difficulties with international competition and imports from Asia that flooded the market with much cheaper options than North American farmers could provide.
    Keywords: Autonomous Province of Trento; Chester County, Pa.; child; China; coal mining; college; education; Ellis Island, Ny.; family business; family dynamics; family relationships; Hong Kong, China; immigrant; immigration; imports; international competition; labor; mushroom processing; parent; Perry Como, 1912-2001; processing plants; shipping; Taiwan; tariffs; transportation; Wilmington, Del.
  • Co-op consolidation / investments in mushroom growing
    Partial Transcript: Delaware Mushroom Co-op, yes that's right.
    Synopsis: Pizzini talks about his father's involvement in the Delaware Mushroom Co-Op as well as some of the other co-ops in the area and the more recent farm and co-op mergers. He goes back to talking about international competition from China and production costs versus the turnout, and how the Mushroom Council and the AMI help offset those challenges.
    Keywords: American Mushroom Institute (AMI); business consolidation; business mergers; cutting cost; Delaware; Delaware Mushroom Co-op; farm consolidation; increase in production; international competition; Kennett Square Co-Op; Kennett Square, Pa.; Leone Pizzini & Son; mushroom brokers; Mushroom Council; mushroom house; Shiitake logs
  • Composting
    Partial Transcript: Your compost that you would grow the mushrooms in
    Synopsis: Pizzini discusses the difference and stages of phases one, two and three composting and mushroom casing.
    Keywords: agaricus biosporus; compost smell; mushroom casing; mushroom spawning; peat moss; phase one compost; phase three compost; phase two compost; recycled compost; spawn; spent compost; top soil
  • Penn State's role / why Chester County is the mushroom capitol
    Partial Transcript: Can you tell me a little bit more about Penn State
    Synopsis: Pizzini describes some of Penn State's role in the industry, including the importance of the short course and how it has shrunk over the last sixty years because of the decline in growers. He goes into why he believes Chester County is the main producer of mushrooms, which is because of the central location to all of the raw materials that mushroom's need to grow.
    Keywords: Chester County, Pa.; communication; continuing education; Department of Agriculture; farm machinery; international competition; international mushroom organizations; local; local business; Penn State Short Course; Pennsylvania Dutch; Pennsylvania State University; raw materials; small business; trade organizations; travel
  • Changes in labor force / mechanization
    Partial Transcript: The other thing is if
    Synopsis: Pizzini talks about the changes in labor; how the labor force was made up of southerners, then Puerto Ricans and now in the present, Mexican laborers. He mentions the role of mechanization in the industry and how automated harvesting hasn't been perfected for fresh market quality mushrooms.
    Keywords: automation; business management; immigrant; immigration; labor; manual labor; margin of profit; mechanization; Mexican; North American southerners; Puerto Rican; running a business; work ethic
  • Changes in production / trade organizations
    Partial Transcript: How much square footage were you growing in as compared to know
    Synopsis: Pizzini describes some of the ways that the crop production has increased over the years; the use of newer compost methods speeds up the production timeline which allows for more crops to be harvested throughout the year. He lists more of the trade organizations that he has been involved with, most importantly his sixty years attending the Penn State mushroom short course.
    Keywords: American Mushroom Institute (AMI); Bart Miner; business expansion; fresh market; fresh produce; increased demand; mass production; Mendenhall Inn; mushroom casing; mushroom compost; Mushroom Council; mushroom harvest; mushroom house; Mushroom Processors Association; Penn State; Penn State Short Course; Pennsylvania State University; phase three compost; processed mushrooms; trade organizations
  • Mushroom themed events
    Partial Transcript: Is that done in any way to deliberately coincide with the Mushroom Festival
    Synopsis: Pizzini discusses the creation and first years of the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival; he was a part of the founding members, and shares that while it is a popular event now, the festival took years to grow into a large event. He also speaks about the Pennsylvania Farm Show and the New Years Mushroom Drop, which are also popular events that involve the celebration of mushrooms.
    Keywords: agriculture; Buona Foods Inc; event planning; fundraising; Kennett Square Mushroom Festival; Kennett Square, Pa.; Mushroom Drop and Midnight in the Square; mushroom month; New Year; Pennsylvania Farm Show
  • Family and the business
    Partial Transcript: So your entire working life has been in mushrooms
    Synopsis: Pizzini reflects on his family, and how Leone Pizzini & Son is moving towards becoming a fourth generation family farm. He shares a little bit about his two children and grandchildren, and how he enjoys working with family which was a draw for him in the industry.
    Keywords: career; child; college; education; family business; family dynamics; family farm; family tradition; generational farm; Leone Pizzini & Son; mushroom house; owning a business; parent; passing the business on; relationships; small business; University of Delaware
  • What hasn't changed in the industry / production changes
    Partial Transcript: So we've talked a lot about change in the industry and how that's changed over the years
    Synopsis: Pizzini discusses the few things that he recognizes that have stayed the same over his several decades as a mushroom grower; the only thing he sees that hasn't changed is the bare-bones mushroom growing process. All of the same steps are followed, although the techniques have been updated or streamlined. He then speaks about the differences in production between white button mushrooms and more exotic, or larger sized mushrooms.
    Keywords: agaricus biosporus; automation; exotic mushrooms; fresh market; harvesting; labor; making compost; margin of profit; mass production; mechanization; mushroom growing process; mushroom pricing; production differences; spawning; specialization
  • Processed mushrooms / staying in the business
    Partial Transcript: So as far as mushroom processors go
    Synopsis: Pizzini talks about some of the bigger companies, such as Campbell's Soup Company, who got into growing mushrooms for themselves and ultimately failed because of how difficult the business is. He talks about the Berks County area of Pennsylvania which was another large producer of mushrooms, and why that area took a different path than Chester County.
    Keywords: Berks County, Pa.; business expansion; Campbell's Soup Company; canned mushrooms; cannery; family business; family farm; fresh market; Italian; Lucho Pizzini; mass production; Mexican; mushroom growers; mushroom house; processed mushrooms; Quaker; Temple, Pa.
  • Changes in the labor force / increase in production
    Partial Transcript: So have there been any other major shifts in the industry over your lifetime?
    Synopsis: Pizzini explains one of the most dramatic changes that he's witnessed over time, which has been the changes in the labor force. He started in the industry working with southerners who moved north for better wages, then Puerto Ricans and currently the industry employs mostly Mexican laborers. The labor also changed with the increase in production which grew significantly.
    Keywords: American South; business consolidation; business merger; change over time; cooperate farming; farm consolidation; increase in production; Italian; labor changes; labor force; manual labor; manually harvesting; mass production; Mexican; Puerto Rican; Quaker; short staffed; work force
  • Contracted labor / changes in growing techniques
    Partial Transcript: I've also heard that back in that time there was a lot of cooperation between growers
    Synopsis: Pizzini remembers what the community atmosphere was like when he was starting out in the business and how it was a common practice to help out a neighbor in their houses picking mushrooms if they needed it. He goes into how now, it is common to hire contractors for specialized jobs or certain aspects of the process.
    Keywords: changes in technique; community; community relationship; contract labor; contractors; farming tools; helping a neighbor; labor contract; labor specialization; manual labor; mushroom harvesting; neighbor; specialization
  • Likes and dislikes in the industry / importance of temperature control
    Partial Transcript: So what would you say your favorite part of the mushroom industry is
    Synopsis: Pizzini explains his likes and dislikes of working in the mushroom industry; he likes working with family and continuing tradition and dislikes the constant responsibility and long, demanding days of running the business. He also talks about the importance of temperature control in the mushroom houses, because of its ability to quickly ruin entire crops.
    Keywords: accounting; business management; change of career; family business; family farm; first job after college; HVAC; mushroom house; temperature control; working with family
  • Mushroom molds / Route 5 Mushroom Growers processing plant
    Partial Transcript: And there's various molds and things that you can get
    Synopsis: Pizzini reflects on some of the difficulties that he's had in terms of mushroom mold, most specifically one referred to as "lipstick mold", and the improper pasteurization process that was found out to cause it. Pizzini continues to talk about the mushroom plant that he ran in New York and the labor that they used up there, including southerners from cities in Tennessee that he brought up and housed near the plant to work for him.
    Keywords: "lipstick mold"; Brandywine Raceway; compost storage; disease; fungi; horse manure; Jefferson, Tenn.; local business; mold; Mountain City, Tenn.; mushroom molds; Niagra Falls; pasteurization; processing plant; produce; Route 5 Mushroom Growers; small business; supply and demand
  • Problems with pricing / end of interview
    Partial Transcript: So I'm looking through my notes and I think I've just about covered
    Synopsis: Pizzini emphasizes how the price of mushrooms have stayed the same despite the increase in demand and rising production costs over the years. He does not understand why this is the case, but it is a major issue in the industry and has led to several growers declaring bankruptcy and shutting down their farms. He ends the interview by declaring that the problems with pricing and labor shortages are the biggest issues in the industry at the moment.
    Keywords: bankruptcy; demand increase; expensive production; labor force; labor shortage; low prices; mushroom broker; production cost; profit margin; stagnant pricing; supply and demand