In 2009, Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora were in their last semester at UC Berkeley, preparing for careers in investment banking and consulting.
Two months from graduation, they came across the idea of using recycled coffee grounds to grow gourmet mushrooms during a class lecture. After some experiments in Velez’s fraternity kitchen, they were able to grow one bucket of oyster mushrooms entirely on coffee grounds.
With interest from Whole Foods and famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, they decided to forgo the corporate career ladder and become full-time urban mushroom farmers, using a waste stream to produce fresh healthy food.
Their Oakland-based company, Back to the Roots, has since expanded to a staff of 21 and now offers a grow-your-own-mushroom kit, so anyone can grow their own oyster mushrooms using recycled coffee grounds. The $19.95 kits are available nationally at Whole Foods or online through the company’s website.
How do the kits work? After soaking the bag of coffee grounds and mushroom roots over night, you mist the kit twice a day with the provided mini-spray bottle. In about 10 days, the kit can produce up to 1.5 pounds of oyster mushrooms to harvest.
When you’re done growing your mushrooms, you can spread the contents of the bag in your garden, using the recycled coffee grounds as a soil amendment.
The company says it is on its way to diverting 1 million pounds of coffee grounds from Peet’s Coffee and Tea this year.