Now in its third decade, Kennett Square’s annual Mushroom Festival has become a mega regional event – this year drawing more attendees than Firefly and raising record amounts for nonprofit beneficiaries.
In fact, festival organizers say that after this past weekend’s 3-day outdoor event, the Mushroom Festival’s Grant program has raised and donated nearly $1 million to 50 nonprofit organizations. The Festival first started donating proceeds in 2000.
Festival Coordinator Kathi Lafferty attributes much of the event’s success to the charitable aspect of the September celebration. “We’re all volunteers, and we work really hard to get a lot donated,” said Lafferty. Just last April organizers awarded $86,100 to 35 nonprofits.
Charitable beneficiaries help spread the word about the annual event, and the community has come to embrace it, turning out in large numbers — 85,000+ attendees this year — when Mother Nature cooperates. “The weather is 99% of our success,” said Lafferty. “We get wiped out if it rains.” The festival collected weather insurance on two of the last five years. On Friday night, the skies opened up at 6 o’clock just as the children’s carnival kicked off. “Unfortunately, we lost that night,” she said.
But vendors reported that turnout was extraordinary on Saturday and Sunday, when the skies were sunny and temperatures were in the high 70’s to low 80’s. “I have heard from festival exhibitors who travel the country that this is the best festival weekend they have seen anywhere in 10 years,” said Lafferty.
Organizers use a formula to track attendance, taking the square footage and multiplying how often the space turns over. They also track parking availability and things as simple as overflowing trash cans. Lafferty says it’s a good thing when volunteers have to work harder to keep up with demand. “It’s been crazy. We’ve never never filled the parking lots, ever. But Saturday and Sunday the parking lots were all filled to capacity, and we had to change out the Trash Tech trash cans multiple times throughout the day.”
The weekend celebrates the crop that dominates the local economy. The growers exhibit area offered visitors a fascinating look at the many stages of growth. And growers shared fun facts: mushrooms double in size every day; all mushrooms are hand-picked and hand harvested; grocery stores and merchants request exact sizes for their customers.
The one-mile long street fair is filled with hundreds of vendors up and down State Street. Restaurants showed off their culinary creativity by offering Mushroom Mac ‘n cheese, mushroom risotto, Portabello fries, mushroom tarts, mushroom popsicles (made just for the festival!) and of course dozens of varieties of mushroom soup. And there were amateur mushroom cook-offs, fried mushroom eating contests, and culinary demonstrations throughout the weekend.
But there were also a variety of jewelers, clothing merchants, souvenir stands and traditional carnival food booths. “You can’t get a lemonade stand to do mushrooms, but we need them all,” said Lafferty.