The Mushroom Growers Are Growing Up: An Interview with Back to the Root’s Nikhil Arora
Back to the Roots (BTTR) was founded in 2009 by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora as a 100% sustainable urban mushroom farm. Since, Back to the Roots has transformed into a unique company focused on bringing sustainable grow-at-home products into households across the country! Their vision is to serve as a standard bearer of innovation and responsibility in our community in order to inspire others to work towards a more sustainable future. Their mushroom kits are available at over 250 Whole Foods nationwide.
What have you been up to since the last post on Care2?
Since the last post on Care2, our focus has really been on scaling up the impact this company is making in our community! We recently moved from our 1200sf warehouse to a new 10,000sf facility in Oakland. Also, we’ve ramped up our coffee collection – on pace to divert and reuse 1,000,000 pounds of coffee grounds from Peet’s this year to use in our grow-it-at-home mushroom kits. Back to the Roots has now created 13 jobs, and looking to be a team of 20 by year’s end. We’ve also started to collect the waste from our local tofu company (Hodo Soy) – their spent okara is a great food for growing mushrooms too! Additionally, we’ve begin collecting the spent grains/hops from Linden Street Brewery (local brewery), and starting to collect the local tea waste from Numi Tea! Our mushroom kit can now be found in 9 regions of Whole Foods as well.
What excites you about what you do? I wonder why 2 young Berkeley grads would find interest in growing mushrooms.
What gets us both up is seeing the positive impact Back to the Roots is starting to make in our community. Seeing the reaction from donating our soil amendment to local urban farms, to organizing school sustainability workshops with our mushroom kits for kids to learn about reusing resources and where there food comes from, to being able to create jobs and employment out of what was literally waste is all motivating us every morning to get up and strive to make a deeper and bigger impact each day!
What were the biggest challenges you have faced since we last heard from you?
Scale! It’s been a fun challenge taking what started as a school project in our fraternity to an organization now collecting 1 million lbs of waste and selling a product nationwide. There are so many small things that you don’t learn in school that we’ve had to figure out via trial and error – from legal and tax issues, to building a sales team, to figuring out operational efficiencies, it’s been a fun challenge though!
How do you measure your impact? What are the social impact milestones you guys are looking to hit in the next 5 years? How has your progress been towards those goals?
Wow, 5 years is a tough one to answer! I can tell you for this year, we hope to collect/divert over 1 million pounds of waste from the landfill; help families across the country grow over 250,000 pounds of their own fresh, healthy food; sustain 10 school gardens through our soil amendment donations; conduct hundreds of school workshops teaching kids about sustainability and food; and continue to create urban, green-collar jobs…hopefully 20 this year!
What’s the vision for BTTR Ventures. Expanding to other types of produce? Is there anything we can get excited about?
Our overall vision with Back to the Roots can be summed up with the word Inspire. Our goal is to constantly come up with innovative products that can inspire others and do so with a sense of responsibility for our community! We are next expanding to offer other types of mushrooms (eg. shiitake), as well as working on a series of other sustainable grow-it-at-home products that can let families grow different types of food in an easy, fun, and sustainable way. We really want to take this whole notion of ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’ and make it as tangible and easy/fun for families to actually start implementing in their daily lives!
Besides purchasing your products, how else can our readers help you push your mission forward?
Embrace the vision of “Inspire” and help get others involved in this movement towards more sustainable communities! We have a new program where if you post a picture of the kit you’ve grown on our facebook page, we’ll send a free kit to a school classroom of your choice along with a ‘sustainability curriculum’ so you can go into that school yourself with the kit and get the next generation excited about learning where their food comes from and what happens to so many waste streams they see every day! We know we can only do so much with Back to the Roots ourselves, and we really hope to create a larger movement where we get others excited about teaching the benefits of sustainable living and farming!
Photo provided by BTTR Ventures