Changing the World One Mushroom at a Time

Nikil Arora proudly shows off the oyster mushroom kit he helped develop

If you’ve ever doubted the power of education to inspire, just consider University of California at Berkeley grads, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez.

Classmates at the Hass School of Business, Arora, 24 and Velez, 23, were on their way to lucrative careers in investment banking and business consulting after graduating two years ago. But they turned their backs on that after listening to a visiting lecturer talk about how poor, malnourished women in Columbia and East Africa were growing mushrooms in coffee grounds to supplement their diet.

Instead, they maxed out their credit cards to start their own business. Their Oakland-based Back to the Roots turns mountains of discarded Peet’s coffee grounds that would have ended up in the landfill into gourmet oyster mushroom kits now sold at Whole Foods and on the Back to the Roots Web site for $19.95 each.

Mushroom kits in their special display case can be found in all Whole Foods.

In the process, Arora and Velez have created an innovative enterprise that even prompted Business Week to name them among the most promising social entrepreneurs in the United States.

Indeed, they now employ 14 people, many of whom were hired specifically because they are parents who have been unemployed at least six months.

Back to the Roots reuses 20,000 pounds of discarded Peet's coffee grounds a week.

In the bag on the left, the mushroom spawns are just starting to grow iin the coffee grounds. In the bag on the right, they are ready to start producing mushrooms.

The kits couldn’t be easier to use. Open the flap on the box, cut open the plastic bag and mist the coffee grounds twice daily with water. In about 10 days, you’ll have a pound of oyster mushrooms to enjoy. Flip the box over. Repeat process. And you’ll get another crop. Afterward, the grounds can be used in your backyard soil to make your garden flourish.

After a few days of repeated misting, mushrooms begin to sprout.

In about 10 days, mushrooms are ready to be enjoyed.

Learn more about Arora and Velez in my story in this month’s Oakland and Alameda magazines.

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Date: Tuesday, 15. November 2011 5:26
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: General, Going Green and Sustainable, Great Finds, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications, New Products

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10 comments

  1. 1

    That is a great invention! I wish I could find those here.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    Wow that is just awesome and how wonderful that they are being so Eco Friendly by using the coffee grounds!!

  3. 3

    I’ve heard about these guys before and they seem really cool. Love the idea of mushrooms growing from coffee grounds. Wonder if that adds to the flavor? hehe

  4. 4

    Love the concept. I need to try this out!

  5. 5

    That is so interesting…I read about these mushrooms in post and was very puzzled by it…
    Hope you are having a wonderful week and thanks for this post Carolyn :-)

  6. 6

    I absolutely love stories like this! They’re so inspiring! People can change other people’s lives! :D

  7. 7

    I recently heard of this product for the first time — it’s such a cool idea! Loved hearing about how they started their business, what an inspiration!

  8. 8

    Oh I heard about this story not a long ago and I was really impressed by the young people starting up business like this.

  9. 9

    I heard about this before but haven’t try their products yet. Will check it out next time I visit WF-Market.

    My hubby just started his MBA program hoping to change career. Maybe I should get him out of school to plant some mushrooms for me instead! :P

  10. 10

    Growing mushrooms in your closet – talk about hyper-local! Great concept.

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