The Mushroom Man

Phil ColesDo you know over 60% of the U.S. mushroom crop is produced in southeastern Pennsylvania? In fact, Berks is the second-largest producing county after Chester County.

For Phil Coles, an adjunct instructor at RACC, mushrooms have played a key role in his life and led to some amazing experiences. For the last 30 years, he has managed the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program at Giorgi Mushroom Co. (Giorgio Foods/Fresh) here in Berks County.

"Integrated Pest Management means no more automatic pesticide applications based on a schedule. In IPM you must understand pest biology, monitor for pests, make the environment unattractive to pests and use a variety of control techniques, all integrated into one pest management plan," Phil explained.

Phil also integrates his work into the Environmental Science classroom as he teaches here. "I invite all of the students in my class to come out and see real-world research," he said.

Once he started teaching at RACC, the experience inspired him to return to school, earning an MBA from Lehigh University. During his time at Lehigh, Phil was awarded a fellowship to study at the University of Nottingham and visit businesses in the United Kingdom.

"We studied Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and green supply chains," he said, "In CSR, companies focus on what is known as the triple bottom line, People, Planet, and Profit. Customers are concerned about how companies produce products and services, and the impact on people and the environment. This can also contribute to increased profitability."

Phil is entering his second year as a trainer and consultant for Northeastern IPM at Cornell University, in structural pest management. As part of this, he travels across the country and works with public housing authorities training management, pest control professionals, staff and residents in preventative measures such as how to make buildings unattractive to pests, in addition to the safest and most effective pest management techniques.

In addition to traveling locally, Phil also was asked to present at Shaanxi and The China Agricultural Universities as an invited lecturer where he lectured on IPM as used in mushroom cultivation. "Their per capita mushroom consumption per person in China is much higher than ours," he said, "They were very interested in technology. It's amazing how much is still done by hand there."

Along with traveling, Phil also is active on several advisory boards, including the Pennsylvania Pesticide Advisory Board, of which was involved with IPM in schools that uses monitoring instead of automatic––and maybe unnecessary––– pesticide use. Phil's professional resumé includes a volunteer position as president of the PA Certified Organic Advisory Board and monthly columnist for Mushroom News.

So, how did Phil end up with a career relating to pest management and mushrooms?

It all started during his undergraduate days at Penn State where he was majoring in biology. "One of my professors had two lists on his door, one for best majors to get a job and one for the worst majors. My major, Biology, was on the worst list," he said.

This drove Phil to investigate other options and he changed from biology to Entomology, in the College of Agriculture, which had a better career outlook. "In Entomology, the classes were so small that we were lumped in with graduate students, so I received graduate level education as an undergraduate," he said. "Then, I was looking for a research project and mushrooms were the only thing growing in winter, once I saw what was involved in mushroom cultivation, I was hooked."