Mushroom Festival attracts tens of thousands to Kennett Square09/13/2022 01:06PM ● By Steven Hoffman
It apparently mattered little to the visitors who showed up for the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival on Saturday that the event had been somewhat downsized from previous years.
Just an hour into the 10 a.m. opening, the crowds were so thick that the idea of taking a quick jaunt up State Street beside the vendors to check out something else was close to impossible because of the heavy throng.
There appears to have been no estimate of attendance publicly issued as of Sunday night, but it was clear that the count of tens of thousands in attendance from previous years still held for 2022.
Several aspects of the 37th annual festival stood out. One was the consolidation of the entertainment to one location at the Main Stage beside Liberty Place Market at Center Street. Others included some new twists on old events and the heroic response by the organizers to a rainy Sunday.
Because of the construction of the new Kennett Square Library on Willow Street, the Mushroom Festival no longer had access to that lot, which had for years held the tent for the wine and soup event, cooking demonstrations, the cooking contest and the popular mushroom eating contest.
The soup and wine event was eliminated this year, but the raunchy mushroom eating event returned as popular as ever to the Main Stage. This year it included two categories of contestants: amateurs and professions.
Some of the amateurs were walk-ons from nearby locations while the professionals came from farther distances. Many of them were repeats from previous years.
The winner this year was returning professional eater Molly Schuyler, who easily out-gobbled her competition. The word was spreading afterward that she had consumed 12 pounds of fried mushrooms.
Another popular event that came over from Willow Street to the Main Stage was the cooking contest. This year it was called “The Chopped Cooking Contest,” and it expanded into two events: one for adults and one for youths.
The contestants were challenged to put together their dishes using ingredients provided on the main table as well as mystery foods they received in a bag.
The adult winner among five adults competing was Sadia Akhter Aurna, who cooked up a “Big Dinner” with mushrooms, rice and other flavors.
The youth event with three contestants of high school age took place in the Liberty Place Market – inside because of the rain. It was won by Sophie Li, who created a stir fry chow mein with mushrooms.
Each of the young contestants was accompanied by one parent in the contest.
At the youth event as well, Gina Gannon of 6ABC News was the hostess and also acted as a judge.
As in the past, the Growers’ Tent on Broad Street received heavy attendance, with growers from various companies showing on compost beds they brought in how mushrooms are spawned, pinned and harvested. Also in that tent were displays of exotic mushrooms and demonstrations of how they are grown.
Near the entrance to the growers’ tent was a block of stands where visitors could buy souvenirs, vote and bid on decorated ceramic mushrooms, buy or eat mushroom soup and contribute to a contest called “Cute as a Button.”
This “button” contest consisted of rows of cans that held pictures of young children, with several categories of ages. People were invited to place money in the cans of the children they wanted to win. The richest cans won.
On hand were “button” staff who admitted to those who stopped by that they wouldn’t be surprised if the winners were kids whose grandparents were over-generous with dollars in the cans.
As Sunday dawned with rain, it was clear that the parking lot and Main Stage, which was outside, could not function properly under those weather conditions. The decision was made to ask Liberty Place owner and manager Geoff Bosley if he would permit a move inside the market.
He jumped in not only to allow it, but he set about to help them make arrangement with tables and chairs and a make-shift stage.
Mushroom Festival Coordinator Gale Ferranto credited Bosley with the rescue and said he was vital in their success in responding to the rain.
On Sunday morning, marking the 21st anniversary of the 911 attack on America, former Kennett Square Mayor and current Pennsylvania House of Representatives candidate Leon Spencer gave an inspirational message about respecting and holding emergency responders in high esteem. “They need us like we need them,” he said.
At the opening ceremony on Saturday morning, state Rep. Christina Sappey greeted the crowd and praised the mushroom industry for its support of the state and local economy as well as its contributions to worthy non-profits.
Also at the festival were many vendors under tents along State Street. They appeared well attended and heavily patronized.
The musical groups were likewise popular, with the Sunday groups set up inside the market.
This was the 37th Mushroom Festival—a festival that started years ago with a small parade on State Street. It was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19, and held at a smaller venue on South Broad Street last year because of PennDOT roadwork uptown.
For many years, Kathi Lafferty, owner of The Mushroom Cap store in Kennett Square, led and greatly expanded the festival. She was present at this year’s opening, and was introduced and honored by current coordinator, Ferranto.
This year’s president of the Mushroom Fest is Gina Puoci, who led last year’s event as well.