Back To The Roots
This rapidly growing startup is changing the way people view their relationship with food
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.
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.