Monday, January 31, 2011

Meatless Monday: I'm a Mushroom Farmer! (Part 1)

Here's how I got started…

He knew I would love this story. So my night owl husband got me out of bed to see the two “mushroom guys” who were being interviewed by Carson Daly on “Last Call” on June 24th of last year.

Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez started BTTR (pronounced “better,” an acronym for Back to the Roots) Ventures in 2009, after graduating from UC Berkeley. Their dream? To establish a closed loop, zero waste urban mushroom farm, using recycled coffee grounds as the growing medium.

The idea came to them as students in a business ethics class. After some experimenting in a fraternity house kitchen, they successfully grew a crop of oyster mushrooms in a bucket of coffee grounds, and then sold their idea to the Whole Foods in Berkeley. They won $5000 in UC Berkeley's 2009 Bears Breaking Boundaries competition and launched the company after graduation. Soon they were selling oyster mushrooms to all 30 Whole Foods stores in Northern California.

BTTR Ventures currently removes 8,000 lbs. of coffee grounds from the waste stream each week. Since its start the company has diverted and transformed over 260,000 pounds of Peet's Coffee grounds. 

This dynamic duo has gone on to win a long string of awards including being named to the 2010 Business Week list of Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs. BTTR Ventures now employs seven people and sells mushrooms to 90 Whole Foods stores, with the goal of selling to all 300 by year's end. 

These entrepreneurs are also committed to making their community a better place to live. They donate a portion of their profits to charity, are involved in mentoring programs, and hire workers through JOBS NOW! BTTR Ventures also sustains ten school and community gardens through its donations of premium soil enriched by the mushroom mycelia (roots) remaining after their mushroom crops have been harvested.

Alex and Nikhil introduced a line of mushroom kits (sold in some Whole Foods stores and online) in March 2010 with the goal of bringing sustainable grow-at-home products into households across the country. BTTR Ventures estimates that already families have grown some 45,000 pounds of fresh mushrooms with these kits.

I bought several kits as holiday gifts and recently started one of my own. Here is a photo of “my farm” taken earlier today. Look for more on fungi and a farm update next Monday.

I try to blog on food or food issues each Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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