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Chester County Press

Kennett Square Mushroom Festival canceled due to pandemic concerns

04/14/2020 04:09PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

It is often said that only death and taxes are assured, but for the throngs of visitors who descend on the Borough of Kennett Square on the weekend after Labor Day every year, the annual Kennett Square Mushroom Festival is about as close as one can get to a sure thing.

Like thousands of other large-scale public events of its kind throughout the U.S. and the world, however, the 2020 festival -- scheduled this year for Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 -- will be canceled, due to increasing safety concerns expressed by its Board of Directors about the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as empathy for a mushroom industry that has been hit hard as a result of the pandemic.

In a release issued by the Avondale-based American Mushroom Institute in January, mushroom growers entered 2020 with record sales volumes, increasing retail prices and solid demand for fresh mushrooms. Since March, however, the local mushroom industry has absorbed a substantial financial blow, stemming from the temporary closure of many of its customers like restaurants, retail stores and food manufacturing centers who normally get their mushrooms from many of the growers in Chester County.

Samantha Snyder, an account representative at To-Jo Mushrooms and the vice president of marketing for the festival, said that To-Jo – like other industry leaders – has seen a drop in the number of orders the company normally receives.

“The festival’s Board of Directors would have loved to have produced the festival this year, but there were just too many unknowns,” Snyder said. 

The festival’s directors also factored in another roadblock in deciding to cancel this year’s event: the enforcement of crowd limitations during the pandemic.

“We have no idea when the restrictions on crowd sizes will be lifted, and we also knew that this is not the right time to be reaching out to vendors and sponsors,” Snyder said.

“Logistically, and from a safety standpoint, we realized that even if the restrictions were to be lifted well before September that we wouldn’t feel comfortable having that many vendors in a finite space, not to mention over 100,000 visitors bumping shoulders and elbows.”

“Because our mushroom businesses have been hurt significantly, it became very difficult for us solicit sponsorship dollars from our friends in the industry,” said Volunteer Executive Director Kathi Lafferty. “We’ve also found out that the typical events that our vendors participate in have also been cancelled, so although it was difficult, we came to the decision that it would just be best in everyone’s best interest – and health and safety -- to just come back even stronger next year.”

The festival, which was to celebrate its 35th year in 2020, began in 1986 when a small group of mushroom enthusiasts wished to hold a public event to celebrate the impact of mushroom growing and mushroom product distribution in Kennett Square, which has long been known as “The Mushroom Capital of the World.”  From those beginnings – which encompassed a two-block distance, the Mushroom Festival has grown to a mile-long venue that draws an average of 100,000 visitors to Kennett Square on the second weekend in September, as well as a full line-up of events, exhibits, contests, children’s entertainment and more than 250 vendors.

Facilitated by its volunteer organizing committee, the Mushroom Festival has donated more than $1 million of its proceeds since 1986 to a wide variety of charities and organizations that benefit the residents of Kennett Square and the surrounding communities.

Despite the cancelation of its 2020 event, the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival will continue to have a strong presence in the community this year. The festival’s Board of Directors recently announced that $25,000 in grants raised from the proceeds of the 2019 festival will be disbursed throughout the Kennett Square community to help fund the efforts of those individuals and organizations that are assisting others in the fight against coronavirus. Contributions will also be made to local fire companies and first responders.

In addition, the festival is considering a new Mushroom Soup and Wine Evening on Oct. 15 in downtown Kennett Square, as well as still holding the annual New Year’s Mushroom Drop event on Dec. 31.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].