Mario D. Basciani, 91, of Avondale, a leading American mushroom farmer, died Sunday, Sept. 13, of complications from dementia at his home.
Born in Toughkenamon, in the heart of Chester County’s mushroom-growing area, Mr. Basciani built the Basciani Group of Companies into one of North America’s largest vertically integrated mushroom conglomerates. The enterprise controls everything from growing to packaging and shipping.
During a seven-decade career, he helped create and became a partner in two related ventures — the Mushroom Co., which processes mushrooms, and Laurel Valley Farms, a commercial mushroom compost maker. Both are among the largest of their kind in North America.
Mr. Basciani was known and respected in the farming community. “His legendary work ethic, tenacity, and passion for mushrooms made him a role model to farmers throughout the country,” his family said in a statement.
The son of Emedio and Anna Basciani, the tall, muscular Mr. Basciani graduated in 1947 from Kennett High School. He played football in the Tuffy’s Football League, and earned a reputation for strength and toughness.
Mr. Basciani’s father had begun harvesting mushrooms for the Pratt family farm in 1915 and after saving up money established his own farm in 1925. Soon, the older man was joined full-time in the business by Mr. Basciani and his brothers Flavian and Emedio Jr.
“He worked on the family farm at a young age and fell in love with all aspects of the business, especially the challenging physical work that comes with cultivating mushrooms,” said grandson Joseph F. Basciani, now chief financial officer of the Basciani companies.
Mushrooms grow in compost covered with peat moss and are highly perishable. They must be harvested quickly. The daily work starts before dawn and continues past sunset.
In 1950, he married Anna Masciantonio, whom he had known since high school. The families trace their roots to the province of Abruzzo, Italy. The newlyweds drove to California for a honeymoon, and over the next decade had five children. In 1963, they built a ranch house overlooking the main farm to serve as their home.
By 1967, Mr. Basciani was well-established in mushroom farming when he was injured in a car accident which left him in a coma. He emerged from the coma after two weeks, and the family credited his wife’s care and prayer for his survival.
Two years later, he founded M.D. Basciani & Sons Inc. He enlisted the help of his three sons to build the enterprise.
In 1970, Mr. Basciani became a partner with other area farmers in the Mushroom Co., a mushroom processor.
In addition to his own success, he saw the need to help aspiring farmers, including his nephews. “This is where Mario became known for his generous heart and helping hand,” his family said.
In 1979, he and other neighboring growers created Laurel Valley Farms to guarantee a source of the high-quality compost and other raw materials needed to raise mushrooms.
In the 1980s, Mr. Basciani’s sons began packaging, selling, and distributing fresh mushrooms everywhere east of the Mississippi River. Now they are distributed nationwide.
Also in the 1980s, Mr. Basciani was injured when he was struck by a dump truck at the farm. He again made a full recovery.
A decade later, Mr. Basciani consulted with younger family members in the 1994 creation of Basciani Foods Inc. The enterprise included building a packing facility in Avondale.
He was instrumental in the launch of Basciani Foods’ first satellite locations in Chicago and Minneapolis.
He never really retired, keeping tabs on farming operations. As he aged, he enjoyed traveling with his wife to Atlantic City and spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
His legacy, his family said, was the guiding business principle he instilled in his children, grandchildren, and even some of his great-grandchildren who have taken positions in the family companies: “Keep pushing, build more, grow more, do not stop.”
Besides his wife and grandson, he is survived by sons Mario J. “Monnie,” Richard, and Michael; daughters Joanne Regester and Susanne Guizzetti; 17 other grandchildren; and 40 great-grandchildren.
Services were Saturday, Sept. 19.