(July 30) KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — The first director of the Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative says he wants to recruit more grower members to the cooperative designed to increase mushroom consumption. Charlie Matthews Jr., who worked 14 years for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Orlando, was named executive director July 23.

“What we need to do in the short run is to expand the membership base in areas we’re working in,” Matthews said. “There’s enough work east of the Rocky Mountains to keep one person very busy. The organization has some ideas involving consumer promotions that we will get working on quickly, also.”

The 22-member organization, formed in December 2000 primarily by East Coast mushroom grower-shippers and marketers, could increase its membership by 50%, Matthews said.

Matthews’ appointment comes during a critical time for the mushroom industry. Promotions were suspended for one year during the long and divisive court battle over the future of voluntary and mandatory assessments grower-shippers paid to the Mushroom Council, Dublin, Calif.

“The appointment is very important, especially since the Supreme Court ruling came down on the Mushroom Council,” said Jack Reitnauer, chief operating officer of Modern Mushroom Farms Inc., Avondale, Pa. “We haven’t had any vehicle to do what they were doing.” Matthews will join the cooperative Aug. 19. He said the co-op will work on tasks the court has excluded the Mushroom Council from performing.

“Our work will be focused on the grower level,” Matthews said. “If we can maintain and enhance grower profits, the shipper and other levels of the food chain will take care of themselves.”

Matthews joins the cooperative eight months after it formalized its bylaws.

“There are some volatile issues within the industry,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for the growers to work together and collectively address their common needs and goals.”

Matthews was the FFVA’s marketing and membership director. He also served in the association’s environmental and pest management division. From 1985-88, Matthews worked for the University of Florida as a multicounty citrus extension agent in Immokalee.

FFVA president Michael Stuart said Matthews’ departure has prompted the trade organization to consider some internal changes.

“We’re in the process of looking at some structural options to see how we will replace Charlie,” Stuart said.

The FFVA will make an announcement on the position by Aug. 9, Stuart said.