Meet Donald “Buster” Needham
He’s Called Jenner’s Pond Home Since 2018
Mushrooms and much more
West Grove native Donald “Buster” Needham had just left for the Army in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I didn’t get as much time with him as I wished,” Buster says of his father, who worked dairy cattle in the summer and grew mushrooms in the winter. When Buster finished his time with the Army, he returned to Chester County and in 1958 went into the mushroom business with his mother for a while. He says it was “a long learning curve,” and he consistently attended courses to learn more about growing mushrooms. His persistence paid off. By the 1970s he had a growing partnership with Penn State’s agricultural school and in 2006 he received the Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer Award—considered the “Academy Awards” of agriculture. Over the years, he built a business he could turn over to his family.
Growing future farmers
Buster and his wife, Julia, a classmate from Avon Grove High School, had two sons who helped out on the farm after school, picking mushrooms and loading trays into refrigerated trailers. In those days, before air conditioning, the mushroom business was seasonal. The schedule accommodated great family vacations.
“We’d do road trips with the kids where we’d take the motorhome and be gone for five or six weeks,” Buster recalls. “We often took trips to Florida for two months and met a lot of people there. It was like having another family—we looked forward to seeing each other.”
As air conditioning became more available, the business became year-round, but the mushroom industry still had its ups and downs. “You need good neighbors and good mushroom growers to help you through that,” Buster told an interviewer from the Hagley Museum.
During one of those downturns in the 1980s, Buster had the opportunity to acquire a large mushroom complex and grow the business. Buster and son Artie were partners in Hy-Tech Mushroom Compost & Needham Farms. Another son, Don, runs the trucking operation as a separate company.
The new facility quadrupled their growing rooms and gave them the ability to make commercial compost to sell to other growers. Buster and Artie researched and practiced techniques that enabled them to shorten the growing cycle. Their mushroom compost blocks allow growers to produce mushrooms in about six weeks, rather than three months. Buster and his son also implemented a bunker system to reduce odor emissions from composting the spent mushroom soil.
Active and involved
Buster was involved in the American Mushroom Institute and supported the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival. He also served as a township supervisor, and he still believes in remaining as active as possible.
“Exercise. Stretch. Get down on the floor at least once a day and get yourself up,” he suggests. His other advice? “Listen before you speak, because you can’t take things back.”
He takes his own advice. He moved to Jenner’s Pond in 2018 and still gets to the farm a few days a week. And he is still close to “good neighbors.”
“I have friends here,” he says. The community’s West Grove location means that he’s still close to friends and old neighbors and he gets to spend time with his sons as they carry on his legacy—a third generation of Needhams in the mushroom industry.