Saturday, July 14, 2012

BTTR - Back To The Roots

Back To The Roots (BTTR) is a great green initiative by two Berkeley university students. They decided to spend spring break growing mushrooms in the kitchen of their house. Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez stumbled upon a brilliantly simple way to change the way we think about food production.

In 2009, they launched Back to the Roots, which began as a tiny mushroom farm and has since moved full-time into producing irresistible little kits that allow pretty much anyone to grow their own oyster mushrooms. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the corporate world of investment banking & consulting, they came across the idea during a class lecture of being able to potentially grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into wages & fresh, local food, they experimented in Alex's fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of tasty oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds. With that one bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods & Chez Panisse and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, they decided to forget the corporate route, and instead, become full-time urban mushroom farmers!  

As the business grew, Arora and Velez also built a partnership with locally based Peet’s Coffee, somehow convincing the company to pay them to cart away used coffee grounds, which means they now turn a small profit on their biggest raw material. And as the two began giving tours of their West Oakland warehouse, where they would eventually grow as many as 500 pounds of fresh mushrooms per week. Then visitors started asking if they could take the coffee/spawn mixture home and try it themselves.

Back to the Roots has created 31 green-collar jobs in West Oakland, and they’re collecting and diverting about 40,000 pounds a week of coffee ground waste from the landfill. And turning waste into food just once isn’t enough anymore: They plan to start embedding vegetable seeds into the kits’ cardboard boxes, allowing budding farmers to grow their shrooms, plant the box, fertilize it with the leftover coffee grounds, and (hopefully) come up with tomatoes, basil, onions, or parsley. Back to the Roots has reached an estimated 10,000 kids via a Facebook campaign that donates mushroom gardens to elementary school classrooms nationwide.

Moral: Nothing is waste, waste for you is gold for someone else.


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