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Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden

July 25, 2011

By Pat Tanner

I found plenty of new and delicious eats and treats at the Fancy Food Show, which was held earlier this month in DC (rather than NYC, because the JavitsCenteris undergoing renovation). For example, I’m crazy about the award-winning Spiced Sour Cherry Spread from The Gracious Gourmet and bonkers for handmade goat milk (!) caramels from HappyGoat, which really do taste of goat milk and come in terrific flavors like coconut & lime.

But the single product that most won me over is the grow-your-own mushroom garden from Back to the Roots. The product is great – you grow up to a pound and a half of pearl oyster mushrooms indoors, directly out of a brown cardboard box, in about ten days. The growing medium is 100% recycled coffee grounds. (Not just any coffee grounds, coffee beans with an impeccable pedigree. The Oakland, CA-based company uses Peet’s.) All you do is mist the opening a few times a day – the mister is included in the kit – and watch ‘em grow.

Even more impressive, though, are company’s two nerdy, young, enthusiastic founders, and their community-minded initiatives. Nikhil Arora, who talks a mile a minute, says, “My friend Alex [Velez] and I started this recently during out last semester in college when we came across the idea in a business ethics class. We decided to go from investment banking to full-time mushroom growers.” The pair are on track to collect, divert, and reuse 1 million pounds of Peet’s coffee grounds in 2011.They also sustain ten school gardens through donations of soil amendments resulting from their production. That is just one of their classroom projects, which also include fundraising activities, sustainability workshops, and a Facebook campaign whereby if you post a picture of your grown mushrooms, they’ll donate a kit to the school of your choice.

Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden is available at more than 300 Whole Foods markets nationwide. It is also available at backtotheroots.com, where it sells for $19.95. (Order two kits and shipping is free.)

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