Interview with Keith Silfee

Hagley ID:
  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript: Okay, we're recording.
  • Starting a career in agriculture
    Partial Transcript: I'm hoping that you could start off by giving us a brief biographical sketch
    Synopsis: Silfee recalls memories of growing up on a small dairy farm in a poor, rural New Jersey area. He loved the farm and working in agriculture growing up, but knew that he wanted to live an easier life than that of a farmer. To do so, he joined the Air Force and served for four years in order to pay for college. After leaving the service, he attended Penn State University at first to be a teacher and later decided to go into agricultural business.
    Keywords: agricultural business management; agriculture; Air Force; childhood; dairy farm; dairy husbandry; education; Farm Credit; military service; paying for college; Pennsylvania State University
  • Farm Credit
    Partial Transcript: Um, and the first lending institution that you worked at was a place called Farm Credit?
    Synopsis: Silfee explains the Farm Credit cooperative, which functions in different ways than a bank does when it comes to lending money to farmers; he also explains how a farmer might use Farm Credit or businesses like it to start their own farms. The 2008 financial crisis affected the lending procedures considerably, as well.
    Keywords: 2008 financial crisis; agricultural economics; Amish; banking regulation; business merger; establishing a farm; establishing credit; Farm Credit; farm variety; lending institution; lending money; loan; Mennonite; starting a business
  • Lending money to different kinds of farmers
    Partial Transcript: So I was gonna ask, did you consult with other mushroom growers
    Synopsis: Silfee describes how he would go about researching and deciding who to lend money to and who makes better business partners when it comes to agricultural loans. He reflects on how mushroom growers and some other types of farmers are different when it comes to the emotional attachment to their farms and their borrowing habits.
    Keywords: 2008 financial crisis; business model; emotional connection; family farm; Farm Credit; farm loans; lending money; loan; mushroom growers; starting a farm
  • Silfee's different jobs
    Partial Transcript: Do you have any sense as to why the mushroom industry seems to stand out like that
    Synopsis: Silfee talks about the different jobs that he's had, including the different positions he's held for Farm Credit and a three year position he had working for a small business selling tractors.
    Keywords: agriculture; Avondale, Pa; banker; business model; family farm; Farm Credit; farm machinery; Kennett Square, Pa; Lebanon, Pa; lending money; loan; mushroom growers; mushroom industry; small business; successful business; tractors
  • Becoming a lender to the mushroom industry / bank consolidations
    Partial Transcript: The mushroom - the mushroom world got turned upside down in the early eighties
    Synopsis: Silfee reflects on how he entered the mushroom industry as a lender through working on defaulted loans during the mushroom industry financial crisis. He continues to explain how he enjoys working for smaller banks and companies more than larger ones because of the shorter chain of command and the better service that smaller organizations can provide. He references several smaller banks which have been bought out and consolidated.
    Keywords: bank; banking; business operation; canned mushrooms; chain of command; financial crisis; foreclosure; fresh market; fresh mushrooms; imported mushrooms; Lebanon, Pa; National Penn Bank; People's Bank of Oxford; small business; tariffs; West Chester National Bank
  • Bank consolidations pt. 2
    Partial Transcript: I wanted to get out of Farm Credit
    Synopsis: Silfee continues to explain local bank consolidations and buyouts and how that has affected him professionally.
    Keywords: bank consolidation; BB& T bank; business merger; commute; Farm Credit; local bank; local business; National Penn Bank; People's Bank of Oxford; small bank; small business; Susquehanna Bank; West Chester National Bank; work commute
  • Best memories of banking / transition to only working in mushrooms
    Partial Transcript: The best memories are those when you help people
    Synopsis: Silfee reflects on some of the best memories from being in banking as a farm lender; he hoped that he was able to provide the critical help that some farms needed to succeed. He also begins to talk about how he left his job as a lender as it became more regulated and complicated to lend.
    Keywords: borrower; career change; change of jobs; farming loans; finance management; financial decision; leaving a job; lender; loan; transition
  • CFO at Hy-Tech Mushroom Compost Inc.
    Partial Transcript: So it wasn't a hard decision to get away from banking
    Synopsis: Silfee shares about his job as the CFO at Hy-Tech Mushroom Compost Inc. and some of his day to day responsibilities in the position.
    Keywords: business management; business operations; change of jobs; Chief Financial Officer; finance management; Hy-Tech Mushroom Compost Inc; taxes
  • Difficulties during his career / banking and worries about labor shortages
    Partial Transcript: So looking back over your whole career
    Synopsis: Silfee reveals the ways that poor economic times have made his previous jobs as lenders and bankers very difficult, especially with the implementation of strict regulations after 2008. He also discusses mechanization in the industry in response to labor shortages.
    Keywords: antitrust litigation; automation; banking regulations; challenges at work; economic hardships; economy; labor; labor shortage; machine; mechanization; workforce
  • Trade organizations / ways the mushroom industry is unique
    Partial Transcript: If I can ask you quickly about trade organizations
    Synopsis: Silfee briefly discusses his experiences with different trade organizations such as the AMI and the ABA. He then talks about the different ways that the mushroom industry is unique with it's comradery and close industry relationships.
    Keywords: "5 C's of Lending"; American Banking Association (ABA); American Mushroom Institute (AMI); Avondale, Pa; family dynamic; family farm; greenhouse growing; industry dynamic; industry relationships; Italian; lending basics; Quaker
  • Why mushrooms are centralized in Chester County / major changes in the industry
    Partial Transcript: You know there are a couple dynamics that caused mushrooms to be in this area
    Synopsis: Silfee interprets why the mushroom industry is centralized in Chester County, which he understands is because of the close proximity of the raw materials. He discusses some of the major changes in the industry as well which he recognizes as mass production, various cost savings and mechanization.
    Keywords: automation; composting; constructing a mushroom house; cost savings; family farm; labor; manure; mass production; mechanization; mushroom compost; mushroom composting; mushroom house; small business; specialization
  • Composting
    Partial Transcript: Typically in the past, at least when I first started
    Synopsis: Silfee walks through the three phase mushroom composting process, and the special "block" composting technique that Hy-Tech farms uses to cut labor costs.
    Keywords: "block compost"; compost wharf; composting; mushroom beds; phase one compost; phase three compost; phase two compost; ricks; spawning; specialization; wharf; wooden beds
  • What hasn't changed in the industry / challenging times in Silfee's career
    Partial Transcript: Um, what hasn't changed?
    Synopsis: Silfee reflects upon the things that haven't changed in the industry and his dislikes and challenges in his different careers; the worst of all being having to work around the heavy regulations when he was a banker.
    Keywords: banking regulations; career change; CFO; family farm; Hy-Tech Mushroom Compost Inc; job; lending; loan; produce; shelf appearance; shelf life; small business; work
  • Continuing education / tarrifs / end of interview
    Partial Transcript: So, is there anything that I haven't asked you
    Synopsis: Silfee concludes the interview by emphasizing the importance of farmers educating themselves and their children, and that children shouldn't go into the family business before working somewhere else first. He speaks to how tariffs have been important to helping the mushroom industry with international competition with lobbyists groups like the AMI.
    Keywords: American Mushroom Institute (AMI); banking regulations; challenges in career; children; continuing education; demand increase; difficulties at work; education; exotic mushrooms; finance; financial advice; international sales; knowledge; lobbyist; parenting advice; supply and demand; tarrifs; work