Borough fest to spotlight mushroom mecca

An effort to showcase the fun in fungi will take center stage this weekend in downtown Kennett Square.

Mushrooms of all types and sizes will be on display in Kennett Square this weekend.

Mushrooms of all types and sizes will be on display in Kennett Square this weekend.

For the 31st year in a row, the Mushroom Festival is expected to attract thousands to enjoy the ambiance of “The Mushroom Capital of the World.” That distinction stems from the fact that Southern Chester County boasts the largest concentration of mushroom-growing operations in the country. Together, they produce about 65 percent of the mushrooms consumed in the U.S., according to The Mushroom Festival’s website.

“We are all very excited to have a beautiful weather weekend ahead of us,” said Kathi Lafferty, the festival coordinator, noting that Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate for the rain-or-shine event. “We will take the heat over the rain any day.”

The festival dates back to 1986, when a small group of shroom enthusiasts decided to celebrate the region’s leading cash crop. They organized a one-day event that was two blocks long. Over the years, the festival has appropriately mushroomed, now stretching more than a mile with culinary events, growing exhibits, contests, children’s entertainment, musical performers, and more.

In addition, nearly 250 vendors are expected to offer a dizzying array of mushroom merchandise. A potpourri of dining specialties will run the gamut from grilled portabellas to mushroom ice cream, and fungi will provide the inspiration for items ranging from sculpture to clothing.

Fun Gus, the Mushroom Festival's mascot, will help kick off the 2016 festival during Friday night's parade.

Fun Gus, the Mushroom Festival's mascot, will help kick off the 2016 festival during Friday night's parade.

This year’s festival will kick off at State and Willow Streets on Friday, Sept. 9, with a community parade starting at 6 p.m. followed by dining and dancing in the street. It will continue on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

New this year, the Amateur Mushroom Cook-Off will serve as a qualifying event of the World Food Championships. The theme for both events is breakfast. The cook-off will start at 10:30 a.m. in the Special Events Tent. After judging at 11:30, the winner will receive a Golden Ticket to the World Food Championships in Alabama and a chance to win prizes up to $100,000.

Another culinary challenge will occur at 3 p.m. on Saturday when the National Fried Mushroom Eating Championship takes place in the Special Events Tent. The contestant who devours the most fried breaded mushrooms in eight minutes will win a $700 prize. The world record remains at 11.5 pounds, set in 2014. A new twist for this year will be the crowning of the first-ever local champion. Amateurs who live within a 15-mile radius of Kennett Square are eligible for the title, which comes with a $200 prize.

Once the Street Fair closes on Saturday evening, the Special Events Tent will open for a special Christine Havrilla and Mason Porter concert. To purchase tickets, which are $20 and include admission to the festival, click here.

On Sunday morning, the Mushroom Run and Fun Gus Walk along the Red Clay Creek will begin at 8:30 a.m. The Soup and Wine Event will occur in the Special Events Tent at 11 a.m. as guests vote for the best mushroom soup in the region and sample the area’s local wines. Mushroom judging in the Special Events Tent starts at noon, and the mushrooms will be sold starting about 2 p.m.

Other returning festival favorites include the Growers’ Exhibit, the Cute-as-a-Button (Mushroom) Baby Photo Contest, and the Painted Mushroom Silent Auction. The proceeds from this year’s photo contest – the winner is determined by the image that collects the most pocket change – will benefit the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

The Mushroom Festival is an all-volunteer organization whose proceeds are distributed to a wide variety of charities and organizations benefiting the residents of Kennett Square and the surrounding communities.  From the 2015 festival, $85,000 was given back to the community in the form of Mushroom Festival grants to 47 local nonprofits. In total, the festival has given more than $805,000 back to the community since 2000, according to its website.

The mission of The Mushroom Festival, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) corporation), is to promote the mushroom, educate consumers about the health benefits of mushrooms, and to promote tourism in Southern Chester County, all while financially supporting local and regional charities through a grant process. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit http://mushroomfestival.org/the-festival/.

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