Back to the Roots, a business focused on reconnecting people with their food and encouraging the world to eat homegrown foods, was founded on sustainably-sound living practices – in this case, urban farming.
Among the brand’s repertoire of urban farming kits is the Mushroom Farm, where oyster mushrooms grown in a cardboard box sprout from a soil mix that includes old coffee grounds, and a water garden, a mini aquaponics ecosystem where a self-cleaning fish tank grows organic sprouts and herbs – the fish feed the plants and plants clean the water.
Back to the Roots urban farming products are fun and offer a simple way for people, particularly children, to be conscious of where their food comes from and how to be resourceful even.
The products themselves effortlessly blend into the family home, and are an ideal set up for homes where garden space may be limited, if any at all. The Mushroom Farm, which comes in a cardboard box, looks like it could be a box of crackers or biscuits, until organic oyster mushrooms start sprouting after 10 days. Then there’s the ready to grow cans, which are as simple as herbs grown in an aluminium can. And the self-watering planters, allowing you to grow cherry tomatoes or chill peppers in mason jars.
The brand was set up by two college friends Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez. During a business ethics class at the University of California Berkeley, the pair discovered that people living in impoverished communities would often grow foods from other agricultural waste, one of them being mushrooms from coffee ground waste.
After watching hours of how-to videos and turning their fraternity kitchen into a lab, the friends decided to give up on careers in investment banking and consulting in favour of becoming “full-time mushroom farmers”.
Mixing business with the environment and education has always been a motivator for the business partners and friends. Nikhil Arora, in an interview with ZD Net, explained: “I’d spent six months during my junior year in college studying in Ghana working on a recycling project. Alex created one of the largest one-on-one mentorship programs on the Cal campus [University of California, Berkeley]. So we had passions around the environment and education, yet we were both businessmen.
“It’s cool to see how much credibility sustainable business movements have now. When we first graduated we were in the heart of the financial crisis. Lehman Brothers had just gone under. There was a sense of: ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this’.”
In 2009, two months before graduating, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez founded Back to the Roots. Initially a bulk mushroom farm, the company now develops products focused on sustainability and education, and has just included a range of ready to eat products to its offering.
As a healthy alternative to commercial breakfast cereals, Back to the Roots now sell organic stoneground flake cocoa clusters, organic purple corn flakes and in a first, biodynamic cinnamon clusters.
In their efforts to be a sustainable brand, the Oakland-based business source all their products in the US. Even the stones in their Water Farm are made from recycled glass, manufactured by a company called Growstone. On the seeds side of things, Back to the Roots have partnered with Seeds of Change, which is a leading organic non-GMO seed provider in California.
With their Undo Food™ movement, Back to the Roots aims to reconnect families back to where food comes from through fun and delicious ready to grow and ready to eat products.
Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez say: “That passion to Undo Food is what took us from organic mushroom kits to stoneground breakfast cereal. Sometimes, we want to grow food ourselves, taste the absolute freshness, and show kids how mushrooms or herbs grow. And at the other times, we’re busy, running out the door, and we just want to eat something – like breakfast cereal – that’s already been cooked for us.
“But we believe the underlying trust, transparency, and consciousness shouldn’t change from the produce aisle to the grocery aisle, or from ready to grow to ready to eat. We believe in a future where all food comes from the kitchen, not a lab; and where R&D [research and development] teams aren’t biochemists, but our grandparents.”
What started as curiosity about urban farming has now turned Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez into champions for sustainable living and food, which has seen the pair collaborate with schools.
The Back to the Roots website also serves as a resource for teachers and children to learn more about growing food.
Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez say: “We think there’s nothing more important than inspiring a new generation to reconnect with where their food comes from. And just like other required school subjects – arts, english, math, and science – we believe gardening, nutrition, and where your food comes from should be a part of every child’s education.”
Back to the Roots have developed their own Garden Toolkit – consisting of a variety of fun, hands-on ready to grow products that are perfect for learning in any kitchen or classroom. Each unit in the curriculum is designed to help kids understand the science behind Back to the Roots products – Mushroom Farm, Water Garden and Garden-in-a-Can – while tackling Common Core standards for science.
Last year, the company partnered with Sodexo, the largest food service provider in North America, to bring their Garden Toolkit into 2,300 classrooms across the US.
Each Garden Toolkit is complete with Back to the Roots’ Mushroom Mini Farm, Garden-in-a-Can, and Water Garden, as well as their complimentary curriculum that helps students learn as they grow and rediscover the origins of their food.
Furthermore, as the gardens are harvested over the next five years, they will deliver up to a half million pounds of food. Schools will use part of the harvest for instruction and make the rest available for donation to local community food banks.
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com