Grow Your Own Mushrooms: Urban Farming in a Box

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Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 10:27 AM
click to enlarge Back to the Roots
  • Back to the Roots

Back to the Roots is the kind of grow-your-own mushroom kit company that makes you wonder what you've been doing with your life. Founders Nikhil Arorahe and Alejandro Velez first got the idea in 2009 during their last semester at UC Berkeley when, just two months before their undergraduate commencement, they learned they could grow mushrooms from used coffee grounds.

Still in the test phase, their mushrooms received nods from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse and earned the (then) boys a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation. In other words, while you were stoked on your summer internship at Ms. Magazine, Arorahe and Velez developed a 100% sustainable product that's currently sold in over 300 Whole Foods nationwide.

Now streamlined and refined, the grow-at-home mushroom kits are made solely from post-consumer recycled materials including used coffee grounds collected from 32 Peet's Coffee & Tea shops in the Bay Area, where the company is based. They look cute too.

Spritz twice a day and up to 1.5 pounds of oyster mushrooms will spring from the brown paper carton in 10 days, yielding at least one, sometimes three, subsequent harvests. The entire kit is biodegradable and, after harvesting, the leftover mushroom roots can be mixed back into the spent coffee grounds, making an excellent soil amendment for top-dressing herbs, fruit and vegetable plants as well as flowers.

In just two years, the Back to the Roots family has grown to 19 people, with a development team boasting an average age is 25.5. They're on pace toward diverting one million pounds of coffee grounds from landfills by year's end, preventing hundreds of thousands of tons of methane gas from being released into the atmosphere.

The team recently turned their focus to other fungi. They've expanded their waste collection to include Hodo Soy (spent tofu/okara waste), Linden Street Brewery (spent grains and hops) and Numi Tea (spent tea leaves), from which they hope to grow different mushroom varieties, like shitake. While oyster mushrooms seem to flourish in the acidic coffee ground mulch, shitake seems more favorable to soy shavings.

Back to the Roots grow-your-own mushroom kits are available at Whole Foods and online, as well as select Sprouts and Gelson's markets.

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