By Raymond Porreca
A family of four walks down State Street, smiling as if they are privy to a secret. Red felt caps, styled with an oversized tip and dotted with white spots, have transformed them into a group of grinning mushrooms.
Their path down the street is lined with dozens of tents, each beckoning passersby in with savory aromas and charismatic hand-made goods.
The family stops for a moment and listens to a voice booming through a speaker, urging people to attend a fried mushroom eating competition.
These were the sights, sounds and scents when thousands of people converged on Kennett Square, Pa. for the 30th annual Mushroom Festival on the weekend of Sept. 11.
The Mushroom Festival, much like the edible fungus that its name is taken from, has become a Kennett Square staple for years, drawing attendees and exhibitors from Chester County and other nearby locations.
With more than 100 vendor tents featuring artisanal crafts and mushroom- related dishes, as well as activities, eating competitions and appearances by celebrity chefs Fabio Viviani and Brian Duffy, the Mushroom Festival promised something for everyone.
“I heard about the Mushroom Festival last year,” Robert Hale said on Saturday. “I decided to make the drive up from Downingtown to check it out today.”
Unfortunately for Hale, his trip to the festival was cut short on Saturday afternoon, after the skies opened up around 3 p.m.
The rains continued throughout the day, forcing many festival attendees to seek shelter from the inclement weather and vendors to close shop early for the day.
Despite the heavy rain, those who stayed at the Mushroom Festival managed to salvage their Saturday afternoon. “It’s rained the last two years,” Wilmington, Del. resident Dora Trusello said. “We always have a great time regardless.”
Trusello and her husband Joe opted to take refuge under an awning as they waited for the rain to subside. Passing the time drinking root beer from a souvenir mug, Trusello said, was a great way to make the most of the day.
Like the mushroom’s ability to flourish in rainy weather, the vendors who stayed throughout Saturday said they still had a successful business day.
“Kennett Square doesn’t usually pop off like this,” said Will Whitmore, a server at Talula’s Table. “Our line was down the block all day.”
Talula’s Table was one of numerous Kennett Square businesses that spent the weekend serving Mushroom Festival visitors.
Because the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival is such a great family event, the influx of people to the small town was to be expected, Whitmore said.
Kennett Square is referred to as the “mushroom capital of the world” by many residents, and the annual Mushroom Festival serves as a reminder of the edible fungi’s importance to the local community.
Mushroom farms in Kennett Square and nearby Chester County locations are responsible for 51 percent of the nation’s fungiculture – an industry that saw $1.12 billion in sales – in 2014, according to a survey by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Each year, the Mushroom Festival donates proceeds to support Chester County nonprofits. According to festival coordinator Kathi Lafferty, more than $80,000 was donated in 2014.
“I’ll be back next year,” Hale said before leaving the Mushroom Festival. “I had a good time before the rain and I don’t even like mushrooms.”