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UD student digs into Chester County mushroom industry

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University of Delaware graduate student Samantha Speck is studying geography to better understand the risks facing the U.S. mushroom industry.

In the process, she surveyed mushroom farmers in Chester County, Pennsylvania and found a regional industry worried about its future.

“Their concern is our mushroom market is going to become entirely imports because these businesses won’t be able to survive,” Speck told UDaily. “Food safety then becomes a risk, because similar to some other industries foreign producers like Mexico and China may not be held to the same standards found in the United States.”

Speck focused on labor in the Chester County mushroom industry. She found that Chester County’s mushroom industry, which has existed for over century, originally employed Italian immigrants to work the fields. Today Mexicans fill that role.

“In her research, Sam is working with mushroom farmers, who are reliant on an immigrant labor population,” said Lindsay Naylor, an assistant professor of geography at UD. “One of the major contributions of Sam’s research is understanding how the labor is performed in the mushroom industry, and how what previously may not have been viewed as a risk prior to the new presidential administration is now viewed as a top risk, and that is the loss of their labor force because of stricter immigration control.”

The largest 50 growers in Chester County produced about 405 million pounds of mushrooms between 2015-2016, according to a 2017 report from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.The report valued the output at approximately $391 million.

Speck identified other industry concerns, including raw material shortages, pests and diseases.

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