Back To The Roots

This rapidly grow­ing startup is chang­ing the way peo­ple view their re­la­tion­ship with food

Better Nutrition - - TREND WATCH - /// By Neil Zevnik

It all started with a ran­dom fac­toid in a busi­ness ethics class at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley: Mush­rooms can be grown in coff ee grounds. Then came buck­ets of coff ee grounds with mush­rooms sprout­ing wildly, clut­ter­ing up a frat house kitchen dur­ing Spring Break. Soon there­after those mush­rooms were on the menu at Alice Wa­ters’ leg­endary restau­rant Chez Panisse.

Fast- for­ward to to­day, and the re­sult is Back To The Roots, a wildly suc­cess­ful start- up that aims to change the way the next gen­er­a­tion views and ex­pe­ri­ences its re­la­tion­ship to ev­ery­day foods. Founded by two ea­ger and ded­i­cated Berke­ley grads, this com­pany is in­tro­duc­ing fam­i­lies to the sources of their food and pro­vid­ing a tem­plate for health­ier eat­ing, es­pe­cially in un­der­served and low- in­come com­mu­ni­ties.

Like so many of the pro­gres­sive com­pa­nies cre­ated by mil­len­ni­als that are spring­ing up across the so­cial and eco­nomic land­scape, this one is fu­eled by cre­ativ­ity and pow­ered by passion. Chas­ing the almighty dol­lar with­out con­science or con­cern has be­come passé; chas­ing down val­ues with an em­pha­sis on work­able mod­els is the new norm.

The Passion

Meet Ale­jan­dro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who turned away from Wall Street and fo­cused on Main Street in­stead. In­di­vid­u­ally in­trigued by that ran­dom coff ee grounds minu­tia tossed out by their pro­fes­sor, they joined forces to ex­per­i­ment. One thing led to an­other, and sud­denly they were toss­ing their lu­cra­tive fi nance- sec­tor job off ers out the win­dow and nur­tur­ing fungi.

They dis­cov­ered that peo­ple were fas­ci­nated with the process and wanted to par­tic­i­pate. Thus was born the no­tion that you didn’t need to have ac­cess to a “back 40” to teach your kids how stuff grows— you could do it on a win­dowsill, or a kitchen ta­ble, or, bet­ter still, in a class­room. Thus was born the Mush­room Kit, and Gar­den in a Can, fol­lowed by a Wa­ter Gar­den that in­cor­po­rates a home for fi sh, and a Kitchen Herb Gar­den. “Gar­den­ing is magic,” says Nikhil. “We want to in­spire ev­ery fam­ily to ex­pe­ri­ence the magic of grow­ing food.”

Spurred on by its ini­tial suc­cess, the com­pany’s mis­sion ex­panded into pro­vid­ing sim­ple foods with com­plete trans­parency through­out the process. How about break­fast ce­re­als with three straight­for­ward in­gre­di­ents? In en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly pack­ag­ing, of course.

The goal was to get their prod­ucts into stores all over the coun­try, so that kids across the so­cial spec­trum can con­nect to their food in a fun way, learn about where it all comes from, and get a healthy meal in the bar­gain. Done, and done. From Costco to Whole Foods, from Home De­pot and Tar­get to New York City pub­lic school cafe­te­rias, Back To The Roots is mak­ing a diff er­ence.

Alex says it best: “It takes a vil­lage to raise a child, and it takes a vil­lage to raise a busi­ness. The thou­sands of photos we re­ceive of fam­i­lies— it’s awe­some to see the tan­gi­ble im­pact these prod­ucts can have, and the spark of cu­rios­ity they can light in a child’s eye!”

As a B- Corp cer­tifi ed com­pany, “Back To The Roots” is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the new con­scious­ness and con­science emerg­ing in the mar­ket­place. It all starts small and grows. The plants, the prod­ucts, the ideas, the move­ment. And we all know about the lit­tle acorn and the great oak tree, right?

It was a offhanded com­ment about grow­ing mush­rooms in cof­fee grounds that al­tered Berke­ley grads Nikhil Arora and Ale­jan­dro Velez ca­reer paths— and lives.

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