People new to Morgan Hill are often surprised to learn that our city was long known as “the Mushroom Capital of the World.” That may seem insignificant, even uncool, but local history proves otherwise.
In terms of significance, mushrooms generate $78.6 million in agricultural revenues for Santa Clara County—second only to nursery crops at $81.2 million—and they deliver an incredible value of over $4,700 per unit. That’s more than 3 times greater than beans, the mushroom’s closest rival in value per unit.*
In terms of its coolness factor, the mushroom is making a comeback from its heyday in the 1980s. Scientists now point to mushrooms and other fungi not only as a key element of soil regeneration and sustainable agriculture, but also as an important source of dietary nutrients for healthy aging and prevention of cancer, heart disease and dementia.
Recently, we learned about the ins and outs of mushroom farming from Akiko Omura Kubo, daughter of Japanese immigrants. Three generations of her family have owned and operated South Valley Mushroom Farm in Morgan Hill since the 1960s. We captured Akiko’s story during our filming of “Stories from the Past” (2020). Watch now.
Akiko talked about donating mushrooms to Morgan Hill’s annual Mushroom Mardi Gras. It would be natural to assume the event originated with mushroom farmers, but it was the brainchild of Fire Chief Brad Spencer, who needed to raise funds for the fire department in the wake of Prop 13’s passage. Now in its 42nd year, managed by Sunday Minnich and devoted volunteers, the Mushroom Mardi Gras has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and raised more than $1.1 million in scholarship funds for generations of deserving local students.
Our local mushroom farms are disappearing due to pressures of urban development and low-priced imports from Canada and China. We are especially grateful to have met Akiko, not only to preserve our immigrant-farming history, but to learn from it as we develop sustainable agriculture for the future.
*Santa Clara County 2019 Crop Report