November 14, 2018
Gale Ferranto, or in her aptly self-titled email signature, Gale Force Wind is a FarmHer with a spirit and enthusiasm that is second to none. Gale is the President of her family’s business Buona Foods. She works tirelessly to promote their crop throughout the industry. On my trip to the Bella Farm mushroom growing location located in Chester County, PA, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Once inside the single-story nondescript building, I began my mushroom education with Gale. After introducing me to her brother Pete, we started our tour out back. There, looming large in smell and with a thick cloud of steam rising through the light rain sat a huge pile of horse manure compost. The siblings explained to me that this compost was just delivered and was set to become the bedding for the next round of mushrooms. First, the manure is taken inside and spread throughout a large wooden tray that runs in rows throughout the building. Next, it is pasteurized by being heated to 140 degrees for days and comes out smelling like roses. Well…not quite roses but more like a much sweeter earthy smelling dirt. The mushroom spores are then planted into the trays and the lights are turned out. The spores sit in the dark for just weeks and when they are ready the humidity and temperature are increased in the room and just a few days later, voila! Mushrooms!
Our last stop was in a room where the ‘shrooms were being harvested. There Pete explained to me that in these controlled environments mushrooms are constantly growing and are harvested every day of the year. The expert harvesters go through each room and pick the ones that are just the right size, swiftly pulling the mushroom out of the dirt, cutting off the root at placing it in a box. They try to touch the mushrooms as little as possible to ensure the best product possible for the end consumer.
From there we headed a few minutes away to the Buona Foods packing plant where more workers were sorting the mushrooms and placing them in boxes that will go directly to the grocery store. Gale also showed me where they create value-added products, such as sliced mushrooms that make it even easier for their customers to quickly add mushrooms to any meal.
Our final stop of the night was to a mushroom store. While this store is run by a competitor to Buona Foods, Gale explained that the industry is small and close-knit. In fact, 63% of all mushrooms sold in the entire United States are growing right here in Chester County, PA. Over time as the growing industry built up there, so did the services and vendors that support the industry, making it an ideal spot to grow mushrooms. Once inside I couldn’t mistake the smell of burgers cooking in the kitchen. My nose led the way and I was met not with just any burger but with a blended burger. Gale, along with many others in the mushroom industry, has been using her Gale Force Winds to speed the good word about all of the health benefits of munching on mushrooms. I learned that up to 25% of schools in the U.S. and even the fast food chain, Sonic is now serving burgers that are meat blended with mushrooms. While I am already an above average mushroom eater (yes, please on pizza, eggs, sandwiches and more) I thoroughly enjoyed the savory burger and it was even sweeter knowing it contained fewer calories and more vitamins!
Gale Ferranto is a FarmHer as unique as the farm she helps run. With a love of family and tradition in the industry, she brings an excitement to telling the mushroom story that I could have never expected, but am sure glad I experienced. This FarmHer who brought the Gale Force Wind was sure a breath of fresh air.
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The busyness of holiday preparations, year-end closing of financial books, tax preparations, loan renewals and prepay of next year’s commodity inputs may have your snow globe resembling the topsy-turviness of a blizzard. Good health and wellbeing, including mental health, is a key factor that contributes to one’s ability to keep farming.
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