The Woodlands at Phillips provides a “home base” for retail sales of fresh mushrooms and mushroom products and for educating customers about mushrooms.
Mushroom growing has changed a lot since 1927, when William Phillips began experimenting with temperature control at his small Kennett Square mushroom farm and developed a way to provide customers with fresh mushrooms year round. William’s sons Donald and Marshall expanded the operation in the 1960s, and in the 1990s the family decided to focus on specialty mushrooms. Today, Phillips is a fourth-generation family-owned business and the largest grower of specialty mushrooms in the US. What hasn’t changed as subsequent generations have taken the reins, though, is the company’s commitment to quality and innovation.
The Woodlands at Phillips, a retail shop opened in April 2011 by family members Jill Phillips Gray, Linda Phillips Steller, Sharon Phillips, and Meg Phillips Rush, honors this rich heritage—not only by offering a variety of fresh mushrooms and mushroom products for sale but also by educating customers about how mushrooms are grown and how to incorporate them in delicious and healthy recipes. Products and information available at The Woodlands also highlight the burgeoning body of scientific research on the many health benefits of Kennett Square’s best-known crop.
HONORING THE PAST, LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The story of The Woodlands is also rooted in the community, and it begins with sisters-in-law Barbara and Suzanne Phillips. In 1972, they opened Phillips Mushroom Place on Route 1, a half mile south of Longwood Gardens. They sold the marinated mushrooms that are still a top seller at The Woodlands, as well as fresh mushrooms. They also installed a mushroom growing exhibit to help educate people about the process. When the shop closed in 2001, the Phillips loaned this exhibit to Kathi Lafferty, owner of The Mushroom Cap. The exhibit still informs Kennett Square’s many visitors to The Mushroom Cap—an emporium for mushroom lovers on State Street.
When Sara Phillips passed away, the family decided to restore her 1828 brick home on Kaolin Road, which has been in the Phillips family since 1890, as corporate offices. They were delighted with the many discoveries made during this meticulous process of restoration—including the original well, which is now covered with a grate and on view on the porch that commands sweeping views across cornfields, and a faux finish created with horsehair on the walls lining the staircase. During this process, the family decided to open a retail store with a focus on quality products and educating consumers as their parents had done. The name “The Woodlands” was the name of an antique shop Sara Phillips had run for many years in the front room of her home.
BOTH TRADITIONAL AND INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS OFFER A HEALTHY TASTE OF KENNETT SQUARE
In a symbiotic cycle of local support, The Woodlands carries soup mixes, tapenades, and other items produced by local makers using Phillips mushrooms. One of the new products the Woodlands team is excited about is Snacklins. These vegan crisps made from yuca and mushrooms look and taste surprisingly like pork rinds, or cracklins, and were featured and funded on Shark Tank. Snacklins come in four flavors—barbecue, Chesapeake Bay, teriyaki, and nacho. They’re also gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, and non-GMO. “We found these and ordered a supply from the makers in Maryland,” says Jill, “and then we found out that they’re made with our mushrooms!” She has a similar story about the mushroom jerky that the shop stocks, which is also made from Phillips’ mushrooms.
Mushroom drinks flavored with chocolate, matcha, or turmeric have been popular this summer. Coffee blended with maitake mushrooms, Jill says, offers the health benefits of this immunity-boosting mushroom with less bitterness than regular coffee—and no mushroom taste.
The freezer at The Woodlands is stocked with mushroom soup, mushroom and gruyère quiche made at the Artisan Exchange in West Chester. Along with a colorful selection of JJ Potts’ popular ceramic garden mushrooms, Shroomyz, The Woodlands stocks cards, t-shirts, puzzles, and books—cookbooks, field guides to foraging wild mushrooms, and more. The shop also offers a wide selection of baskets perfect for gifting and shipping to share a taste of Kennett Square.
“We’re moving towards being more of a farm store, with more of our own products and products that use our mushrooms,” Jill says.
RECOVERY AND RESILIENCE THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
The pandemic revealed the interdependence of global supply chains, and the mushroom industry has suffered shortages as a result too. Difficulties and delays in sourcing boxes, labels, jar lids, and other necessary items caused stress and also drove a certain degree of creativity. Finding workers continues to be a challenge as well.
In Phillips’ high-tech state-of-the-art new facility in Warwick, Maryland, the computerized climate-control system is twenty percent more energy efficient than traditional Pennsylvania growing houses. With a focus on quality and freshness, every room is harvested multiple times a day, 24 hours a day. But each mushroom still needs to be picked, at its optimum size, by hand.
The mushroom industry is experiencing an ongoing labor shortage at a time when demand for mushrooms is high, Jill says. “We were positioned well during the pandemic, since grocery store sales took off when people weren’t going out to dinner.” Still, she’s delighted that they’re now able to supply local chefs with their fresh mushrooms once again. These chefs are spoiled for choice, as Phillips is the largest grower of specialty mushrooms in the US.
Mushroom growers are also well positioned to provide diverse, healthy options as more and more people decide to follow vegan or vegetarian diets. “Part of this trend is driven by health concerns, as mushrooms have no fat or cholesterol and are great sources of protein as well as potassium, magnesium, vitamins B and D, selenium and other important nutrients,” Jill says, “but it’s also about the planet.”
Growing a pound of mushrooms requires only 1.8 gallons of water (as opposed to over 1,600 gallons to produce a pound of steak), and 1 acre of growing space can produce over a million pounds of mushrooms annually. Mushrooms require very little energy and are the consummate crop for recycling. Mushrooms grow in a substrate that’s a blend of farming byproducts, most of which would otherwise end up polluting our waterways. In a prime example of 360-degree sustainability, used substrate can then be repurposed as garden fertilizer, mulch or, as Landenberg-based company Skyland is doing, as a lightweight soil engineered for green roofs.
In the final analysis, though, no matter how good something is for you, or the planet, it has to taste good in order to be a sustainable part of your diet. Customers at The Woodlands can pick up beautifully designed recipe cards along with their fresh mushrooms. Mushrooms are the star in classics like mushroom soup and spreads, but the ability of different mushroom varieties to simulate the taste and texture of meat in various recipes is another one of their superpowers. “Crab” cakes made from lion’s mane mushrooms, for example, “bacon” made from shiitakes, or barbecue made from royal trumpets, are all delicious and healthier options. Replacing or extending ground beef or turkey with chopped mushrooms also cuts calories and boosts flavor in meatballs, chili, meatloaf, tacos, burgers, and other dishes.
Supplements are another way to benefit from the singular nutritional properties of different mushroom varieties, and Jill says sales of their wide range of supplements have been growing over the past year and a half as people have focused more on wellness and sought natural ways to boost their immunity.
Jill laughs as she describes how she and her sister Linda planned to bring their knitting to the shop when they first opened. Needless to say, the knitting never got done. “Now we don’t even have time to think!” she says. But it’s clear that they do manage to find time to think, as The Woodlands at Phillips reflects their thoughtfulness in every detail. New and returning customers appreciate their ongoing commitment to offering the best quality products and a welcoming and safe shopping experience.
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