Bacon’s Mushroom Theory of Economic Development

Pennsylvania mushroom farm
Pennsylvania mushroom farm. Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

We’ve all heard the mushroom theory of management — shovel s*** and keep ’em in the dark. Well, brace yourself for Bacon’s mushroom theory of economic development.

Almost half of America’s mushrooms are produced in Chester County, Pa. After peaking in 2014, however, production has declined slightly in recent years. A big problem: a labor shortage. Reports the Wall Street Journal:

Most mushroom growers have failed in efforts to recruit locals for harvesting jobs, which can bring in as much as $50,000 a year but often require workers to start by 5 a.m. and put in six days a week.

“We’d love to get people who live in this area,” said Meghan Klotzbach … regulatory manager for Mother Earth. “They graduate from high school, they just go to Wal-Mart to work. Why can’t you come here and pick mushrooms?”

Chester enjoys no natural advantages in mushroom growing, which takes place indoors, in the dark, using composted soil. The concentration of the industry in this one Pennsylvania County is a historical curiosity, dating back to two Quaker flower growers in 1885 who discovered they could use wasted space under their carnation beds to grow mushrooms. The region maintains its dominance in part due to an elaborate supply chain that funnels large volumes of manure to the farms. But mushrooms can be cultivated anywhere.

Indeed, they are grown in Virginia. A quick Internet search reveals at least three mushroom farms: North Cove Mushrooms in Charlottesville, Sharondale Farm in Cismont (near Charlottesville), and Urban Choice, which is located in the Scott’s Addition area of Richmond.

The Virginia mushroom farms are small enterprises that sell mainly to farmer’s markers and local restaurants. If labor is a constraint in Chester, Pa., why can’t Virginia farmers take up the slack? Wouldn’t $50,000 a year sound like good money to workers in rural Southside and Southwest Virginia (or for inner city workers in Richmond)?

The Washington, Hampton Roads and Richmond metropolitan regions represent a vast market for fresh, locally grown produce of all kinds. Rural Virginia needs more, better-paying jobs. Mushroom cultivation could fit the bill. Find a couple dozen niche agricultural products like mushrooms, and we could see a rural revival in the state.

Just a thought….

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10 responses to “Bacon’s Mushroom Theory of Economic Development”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    This won’t work. As we all know the most reliable source of manure (i.e. bullshit) in Virginia is from our General Assembly. Oceans of it flow for a couple of months every year in Richmond. But what would we do during the months the General Assembly is not in session? And how do we get the copious amounts of manure generated by the General Assembly to Southwest Virginia?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    actually .. it’s on point I think. what do places like NoVa “need” that they cannot produce “on site”?

    food and electricity are two.

    Poultry, hogs and cattle also produce “copious” amounts of manure and DJ and others “blame” those farmers for polluting the rivers so what better than to not put that stuff in the rivers and use it to grow other stuff – besides mushrooms.. all that decorative landscaping stuff that NoVa folks like to keep their abodes “pretty”?

    Why I bet DJ spends a “copious’ amount of money every year on landscaping and manure for his own properties.!!!


    1. djrippert Avatar

      The farmers do pollute the rivers. Just like the City of Alexandria pollutes the Potomac with its idiotic sewage system. Both can be materially improved. Farms with relatively inexpensive fencing around streams and Alexandria with a very expensive upgrade to their sewage system. Both should be mandatory.

      If the farmers find that the anti-pollution measures raise their costs then I assume they will pass on those cost increases to the end consumer – wherever they may live. When Alexandria incurs the additional costs of the new sewage system it will have to raise taxes on its residents. Fairfax County should have been forced to clean up the ecological disaster that is Accotink Creek. However, Virginia’s Attorney General of the time (Ken Cuccinelli) used what was in fact a loophole to prevent the EPA from forcing Fairfax County to take this necessary action. I would have been among the many people who would have been forced to pay higher taxes to fix this problem.

      Pollution is a denial of property rights to others. It is a legitimate function of government to enforce property rights including the regulation of polluters who would deny those rights to others.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Geeze DJ – we are ON THE SAME TRACK!

    but the REAL point is that Alexandria and Fairfax are currently being SUBSIDIZED by pollution of the river.

    They themselves are not paying their legitimate costs for CSO and runoff AND they’re blaming farmers for what will be higher costs to NoVa consumers if you really want the farmers properties .essentially made less productive and their products more expensive (which I support).

    So the REAL PROBLEM is not the farmers.. it’s the pollution from the food they produce to feed NoVA folks ..and ironically the additional costs that NOVA refuses to pay for that food after it is “processed” and turned into human manure that is then dumped in the river.

    Face it DJ.. NoVA is the problem… too many people stuffed into too small an area that need to eat and poop. I LOVE the way that Bacon talks about “functional” settlement patterns that pay their own way and how exurban communities do not.. and at the end of the day – NoVA is subsidized twice.. once from the farmers growing food for them and twice after they eat it then poop it into the river…


  4. Acbar Avatar

    The GA is such a pinnacle of virtue, a gleaming City On A Hill, it must all flow downhill from there.

    I can make the case that Alexandria’s combined storm-water and septic sewer system conformed to best practice when it was built; it beat dumping the sewage out of windows into the street. Therefore, it can be argued with a straight face that for Alexandria to comply with modern best practice is to require it to comply with changed State and federal standards, and that’s an upgrade cost that should be socialized.

    That said, the argument stinks. Both ways. We should no more let Alexandria off the hook than those farmers; they impose a cost, they should pay to remedy it. And, I might add, not just the farmers, but also those suburbanites whose grossly over-fertilized lawns are an increasingly large part of the runoff problem.

    As for: “NoVA is the problem… too many people stuffed into too small an area that need to eat and poop.” Yes, the concentration of population also concentrates their impact on the environment. No, it’s not the fault of the jurisdiction where they choose to concentrate; it’s the fault of those who do the concentrating. In other words, there are too damn many people. The only way to fix it is population control, war, or the Andromeda Strain II. Yet the economists out there tell us we need more people to grow the economy and pay for those of us already past our working years. Although Mr. Trump would deport them. So I’ll blame the whole thing on the economists and DJT! Both are easy marks.

    As for growing mushrooms around the State, I think we’re missing a big opportunity here. According to Jim, those first mushroom farms were grown by Quakers underneath flower,s up there in Chester, PA. But now, the darling of the greenies, the landscape’s new flower, is those monstrous solar farms that Reed admires so. Build a huge solar farm and guess what: there’s a large shaded area underneath it!

    Now if there’s a way to combine these thoughts, it would be to pump the GA’s output (which as we know, resists FOIA and all other forms of sunlight) into that dark space under every new solar farm, and harvest the mushrooms along with the electricity. And we could use the electricity to power a bigger sewage treatment plant, or sell it and build a bigger holding tank and float some mushrooms on top and make mushroom soup. Or, use the electricity to pump all that c— uphill back to where it came from (I’ll bet Alexandria would fix the problem in a hurry if THAT happened).

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Are urban areas subsidized by rural? let’s check that:

    where do urban areas get their food?

    where do urban areas get their clean water?

    where do urban areas get their electricity?

    where do urban areas put their storm water runoff?

    where do urban areas put their trash?

    where do urban areas put their sewage?

    where do urban areas put their sewage sludge?

    when we say “socialize” these costs what does that mean?

    when we try to get urban areas to clean up their storm water runoff they say it’s too expensive..

    when we say that farmers pollute the rivers – what are the farmers growing on the land – and for who?

    If urban areas really paid their fair share of the cost of raising crops in rural areas – it would provide more jobs for the farmers.. to build and maintain the pollution controls needed to keep animal poop from going into the rivers.

    if urban areas paid their fair share of electricity costs – they’d be paying the lions share of the coal ash cleanup since they use the lions share of the electricity.

    and yes.. suburban areas have their own issues also

  6. Acbar Avatar

    “Are urban areas subsidized by rural?” Where are the jobs? Where are the tax dollars collected? Where are the arts? Etc. etc. Yes, those urban things which use land are subsidized by rural areas, but the reverse is true for economic activity. Unless you don’t count that and would have us go back to a paleolithic lifestyle.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      so you AGREE that what the Urban areas pay to the rural is NOT a subsidy but a payment in exchange for exported services?

  7. Acbar Avatar

    “When we say “socialize” these costs what does that mean?” What I mean by it is, society as a whole pays the cost (usually through taxes) rather than the entity or individual “causing” the burden. Causation is itself a slippery slope as you well know; who “causes” a farmer to grow a crop: the coop that buys it; the farmer who makes a profit on it; the distributor that brought it to Safeway; the Safeway that sold it; the consumer who eats it; the realtor who sold the house in the city that caused the consumer to shop at that Safeway?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: slippery slope.

      farmers don’t grow crops just to be growing them… they grow them to sell to consumers and if farmers are accused of polluting as a consequence – then who should pay to stop that pollution? Ultimately it ought to be the folks who need the product.

      Ditto with things… that urban areas need – and provisioning them can cause pollution. who pays to not have that pollution?

      In the end – isn’t it the person who wants the food or service that should pay?

      Possum Point.. coal ash – where did it come from? coal for electricity for NoVa, right?

      How about all that trash that gets hauled to King George county -mega landfill that is not only an eyesore but a smell-sore to the folks who live there.

      How about those farm fields in Spotsylvania that have sewage sludge from Blue Plains spread on them.. and stink for miles around?

      Up on the Shenandoah river.. the bass are now intersex … from the hormones that have leached from the piles of poultry poop…

      and here’s a new one … that most folks are not even aware of.

      All those new wonder drugs that folks now take.. they now end up in the Potomac river… where the critters are absorbing them with some worrisome effects.. there is apparently no existing process for removing these drugs… from sewage…

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