Pennsylvania: Mushroom (and Ice Cream?) Capital of the World
Our next stop on our ongoing tour of America’s land-grant university (LGU) system is upon us, and today we turn our attention to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which might be one of the most agriculturally diversified areas in the eastern United States. It holds a special place in our hearts, since it is where we are principally based. Just outside of Lancaster in the heart of Amish Country, in a little town called Bird-in-Hand, is where you will find Medius Ag. In some ways, a tech company right in the middle of ag country speaks to what Medius is all about. Because it is true and speaks to our unique role in U.S. agriculture, we like to say that we are an ag company that creates data solutions and not the other way around.
But this post is about Pennsylvania, its agricultural landscape, and some of the ag research that is conducted at its only LGU: the Pennsylvania State University, or Penn State as it is more commonly known. Penn State is home to the Nittany Lions, which begs the question: What exactly is a Nittany lion? Within the Keystone State, this is probably a silly question. But for everyone else, it deserves an explanation. In fact, the university devotes an entire web page to the critical issue.
A Nittany lion is a mountain lion or cougar. It’s that simple. Mountain lions roamed the State College area until 1880. At this time the remaining mountain lions were moved out of Pennsylvania. People report still seeing mountain lions on occasion but this is extremely rare.
The history of the name “Nittany” (or “Nita-Nee”) is a little unclear. Many say it comes from a Native American word meaning “single mountain.” Others say it is named after a legendary Native American woman said to be from this area.
Now that we have that settled, let’s take a look at some of the other things that make Pennsylvania so unique. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) offers a snapshot of the state’s ag production. Sure, there are the usual suspects of corn, soybeans, hay, and wheat, but several others that fall in the specialty crop category. Peaches, pumpkins, tobacco, maple syrup, and even mushrooms make the list. Yep, mushrooms.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development declares that 68% of America’s mushrooms originate from Pennsylvania. Dig a little deeper (get it?) and you will quickly learn that Kennett Square–west of Philadelphia and near the point where Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware meet–claims the title of “Mushroom Capital of the World” and serves as host of the annual Mushroom Festival held each September. If you are wondering what a mushroom farm looks like, let us tell you from personal experience that you’ll smell it before you see it!
Pennsylvania is no slouch when it comes to animal agriculture either. According to USDA NASS data, it is eighth in milk production by volume (1.93 billion pounds) and value ($10.1 billion) in 2021. Meanwhile, it ranks 13th in hog production by value at $434 million and 23rd for cattle production at $545 million. For poultry, the state ranks 11th at $163 million for turkey production value and 15th for chicken ($738 million).
With so much agricultural production across sectors in the state, you would correctly assume there to be a healthy and expansive agricultural research presence at Penn State, especially since it got its start as an agricultural school when it was first chartered in 1855. Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences–one of 16 academic colleges within the university–boasts an incredible research portfolio and robust extension program.
From a plant breeding standpoint, Dr. Majid Foolad’s tomato breeding program has made contributions to commercial tomato production. Also worthy of mention is the research conducted in the Guiltinan-Maximova Lab on cacao genetics. Cacao is the starting point for chocolate production. There’s not much cacao production that we’ve been able to find in Pennsylvania, so the team has to travel to some pretty cool locations for their field research, according to their Facebook page anyway.
Penn State participates in a lot of variety testing, too. Varieties of corn (grain and silage); soybeans; small grains including wheat and barley; forage crops including alfalfa, clover, cool-season grass, and warm-season grass; cover crops; and probably others that we missed. But our favorite definitely has to be the flower trials.
Earlier in this post we referenced Pennsylvania’s dairy industry, which is a subject area we don’t usually venture into. However, we are making an exception for a very specific reason: the Berkey Creamery. The creamery has been in operation since 1865 and has even hosted U.S. presidents. If you are an ice cream professional, or just passionate about ice cream, you may want to check out the Ice Cream Short Course they offer every January.