Sunday, April 5

Making a Stink Over Mushrooms

From "Can science keep mushroom farmers from stinking up the Commonwealth of Pennyslvania?"

Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of six features on the science of food, running daily from March 30 through April 6, 2009.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—Donald "Buster" Needham and his sons Artie and Don are moving their mushrooms out of Pennsylvania. Needham, 73, took over the business from his own father 50 years ago, but his West Grove operation—fueled with several hundred tons of steaming horse and chicken manure each week—has proved too stinky for city folk buying up homes in this township 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.

In 2004 Needham announced plans to expand, but his neighbors shut him down, complaining of fetid odors and the potential for manure runoff to seep into groundwater and nearby streams. "The regulatory people, the township supervisor in the area, and neighbors—they wouldn't accept anything," Needham says...

And Needham isn't the only farmer feeling the pinch. Mushroom expert Dan Royse of Pennsylvania State University in University Park says it's the same story all over the Keystone State, which is the nation's largest mushroom producer: Some 500 million pounds (225 million kilograms) of button mushrooms grown within its borders hit the market annually, and at $453 million, mushrooms are the state's largest cash crop. As much as residents rave about the yearly Mushroom Festival in historic Kennett Square each fall, few want a mountain of manure in their backyards. And while Republicans may have raised a fuss last month about federal funding of pig odor research in Iowa, farm odors are a national problem that are pitting agricultural economies against a deluge of suburbanites who thought they wanted a piece of the country lifestyle. That's why Penn State scientists are stepping in to try to make the beleaguered mushroom industry more environmentally friendly. Read more...

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