Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Grow Mushrooms and Help Kids

By Paige Brady, August 20, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Paige Brady

Thanks to Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, co-founders of Back to the Roots, a 100% sustainable urban mushroom farm, for sharing their story. Read on to learn how this Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Recipient has launched a Facebook campaign to share the gift of growing with kids across the country. During our last semester at UC Berkeley we heard an interesting fact in a class: gourmet mushrooms could potentially be grown on 100% recycled coffee grounds. Excited about the waste-to-food model, we started experimenting in a fraternity kitchen, eventually planting ten test buckets of coffee grounds mixed with mushroom spawn (seed). Out of the ten, only one grew — but we saw a huge potential in that one bucket! Not knowing what a good mushroom tasted like vs. a bad one, we walked that paint bucket of mushrooms down to the best restaurant in town — Chez Panisse — whose founder, Alice Waters, happened to be there. Cal, one of the head chefs, tried some of the mushrooms on the spot. We still remember him sautéing the mushrooms and shouting, “Whoa, these are delicious!” That same day, even more excited, we walked that bucket over to our local Whole Foods Market store in Berkeley and talked to the first guy we saw in the produce department, someone packing the vegetables. Before we knew it, we were being passed around the whole store telling a lot of the team members about the sustainable mushrooms we were trying to grow! A few weeks later, we received an email from Randy Ducummon, the regional produce coordinator for Whole Foods Market’s Northern California Region, and he was really supportive about the possibility of a local, sustainable, urban mushroom farm. “If you figure this out, we’ll launch them in stores.”  We’ll never forget those words! A few weeks before graduation, we won a small $5,000 grant from our Chancellor for a social innovation business plan competition. Tasty mushrooms, the support of Whole Foods Market, and $5k in our pockets...that’s all we needed to forego our offers in investment banking and consulting and instead become full-time urban mushroom farmers! Though we started off with fresh mushrooms, we had a lot of our customers and supporters asking us: “Can we take this one step more local and grow these at home?” With that in mind, we launched the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden, which lets anyone grow up to 1½ lbs of gourmet mushrooms in as little as 10 days…right from the little brown box! The soil inside is 100% recycled coffee grounds, and our goal this year is to collect and divert one million lbs of coffee grounds from landfills. Once you’re done with the soil inside, the leftover mushroom roots and coffee ground blend actually turns into a great soil amendment for any other plants at home…closing the loop on your Mushroom Garden. As we’ve launched the kits, first in the Berkeley store and now in Whole Foods Markets nationally, we’ve seen an awesome response from a wide range of people, but especially kids! We quickly learned that the 90 days or so it takes to grow tomatoes is a lifetime for kids, whereas the 10 days with the mushroom kit was something they could really get excited about because it literally grows in front of their eyes. We’ve since partnered with dozens of schools using the mushroom kit as an awesome educational project that ties together science, food and sustainability. We’ve had a lot of people tell us, “Kids don’t like mushrooms,” but what we’ve seen is that kids love watching things grow (especially in just 10 days!) and are then so proud to share that with their family and friends. Our vision with Back to the Roots is to create a movement around everyone growing their own food, and we’re excited to share a really fun campaign we just launched. For every picture someone posts on our Facebook Page of their fully grown mushroom kit, we’ll donate a kit and sustainability curriculum to an elementary classroom of their choice. Share your experience and support kids to get involved in learning where their food comes from. With nearly one in five kids in the US dealing with obesity, we believe educating and empowering kids to eat healthy and learn about the food they put in their body is crucial. We’re proud to partner with Whole Foods Market, who just launched the Whole Kids Foundation, to build that energy around healthy and sustainable living. So “like” our Facebook page, share your photo and join the movement!

 

26 Comments

Comments

Kelly Schermer says ...
This is so cool!! Love it...
08/29/2011 2:31:46 PM CDT
Mackenzie Snyder says ...
This is really amazing - "The soil inside is 100% recycled coffee grounds, and our goal this year is to collect and divert one million lbs of coffee grounds from landfills." These gourmet mushrooms are truly delicious and made from coffee grounds we would typically just throw away. I love the idea of getting kids involved with cooking and learning about where their food comes from. Great job Nikhil and Alejandro - I've ordered your kits online before and can't wait to look for them at Whole Foods.
08/29/2011 3:18:29 PM CDT
Will K says ...
i bought a few of these kits - - they make great gifts and are a great talking point for dinner, etc that i hold at home. these guys have a cool story as well.
08/29/2011 3:43:33 PM CDT
Emily says ...
This is amazing...young guys saving the world :) and making cool gifts too
08/29/2011 3:44:59 PM CDT
Arjun Dev Arora says ...
Such an amazing story! :) Excited to buy some kits at my local Whole Foods.
08/29/2011 3:51:27 PM CDT
Heather says ...
Awesome! Can't wait to try this!
08/29/2011 5:20:10 PM CDT
Liliana Ramírez says ...
This is fantastic!I do love the idea of growing my own food, this is about how to live a more self-sustainable life and what a fun and cool way to get kids interested in food and science! Congratulations!
08/29/2011 9:43:26 PM CDT
Anna Murphy says ...
It is wonderful what they have done! I took a kit at home and I love it! Just real fresh mushroom from my own kitchen!
08/29/2011 10:42:55 PM CDT
Dan says ...
Simple idea, great price for how much you get, really good mushrooms! I used to not like mushrooms, but my girlfriend got these as a gift. At first I didn't even want to try them but she convinced me to. I just ordered my second kit. My girlfriend and I like to watch them grown, and then we make a whole evening out of staying in and cooking some simple dishes. We just tried the pasta that they list on their website. I went to my local whole foods and they didn't have them though, so waiting for the new kit to come in the mail. Nice job guys, I just actually read the whole story, really impressed.
08/29/2011 10:52:08 PM CDT
Dennis says ...
Cool gift idea. I tried the kit and got 4 crops of mushrooms, over 6-8 weeks. Quite tasty, followed the pasta recipe on www.backtotheroots.com web site.
08/29/2011 11:33:07 PM CDT
Claudia says ...
brillant gift idea thanks ever so much!!!
08/30/2011 11:06:11 AM CDT
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08/12/2012 10:04:46 PM CDT
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08/13/2012 1:11:15 AM CDT
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08/13/2012 1:12:18 AM CDT
Beverly says ...
Are these kits available at the Boise location?
12/21/2012 12:29:43 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@BEVERLY - Our products vary between locations. I would give the Boise store a call at 208.287.4600 and chat with a produce team member. They'll be happy to let you know what they have in stock or can recommend something similar!
12/27/2012 4:00:09 PM CST
William Klotz says ...
Should this box be standing up on its small end as should in this photo? We bought one and left it lying flat, and only got about 2 mushrooms. Thanks
02/09/2013 11:39:33 PM CST
wael says ...
i need to make any small production so i see your wepsit i am in new york i dont know if i can do somthing like indoor mushroom but the ost important for me who will take my product
04/06/2013 11:23:35 AM CDT
Lew Witter says ...
Looks like the Investment Banking Industry has just lost two very smart guys whose entrepreneurial spirit just seems so much more important! Look forward to buying my first "'Kit" and devouring the first harvest! This venture of Ahora and Velez is awesome on so many levels! Good job guys and Thanks!
10/27/2013 11:55:40 AM CDT
judy dowdle says ...
I have your mushroom kit and it is growing nicely...but, what kind of mushrooms am I growing?
12/30/2013 5:09:15 PM CST

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