BACK TO THE ROOTS

DIY back­yard farm­ing, Cal­i­for­nia firm’s grass­roots push

Times of the Islands - - Health & Wellness -

It was al­most like a farm in a box. But Back to the Roots has moved far be­yond its ini­tial home­grown mush­room kits. Cal­i­for­nia-based Back to the Roots to­day sells herb, veg­gie and sun­flower kits, all ed­i­ble, eas­ily grown in a back pa­tio and part of the ur­ban/sus­tain­able farm­ing move­ment. While small farm­ing dates back cen­turies, the idea of pur­chas­ing a gar­den in a bag is a rel­a­tively new con­cept. Back to the Roots, for in­stance, started in 2009, the two founders us­ing old cof­fee grounds to grow ed­i­ble mush­rooms. The com­pany it­self mush­roomed, to­day sell­ing ready-to-grow basil and cilantro cans, or­ganic seeds, cin­na­mon clus­ters and pur­ple corn flakes. The web­site lists ve­gan recipes and snacks. Back to the Roots is also in New York City schools. “At that mo­ment we said for­get bank­ing, for­get con­sult­ing― ur­ban mush­room farm­ing it is,” co-founder Nikhil Arora said in an in­ter­view. He and part­ner Ale­jan­dro Velez took an ad­di­tional $10 mil­lion in in­vest­ments in 2016 to fur­ther grow Back to the Roots, or B2TR, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic records.

Amer­i­can ur­ban farm­ing, or­gan­ics and the nu­tri­tious food move­ment re­ally sprouted in the last two decades, ac­cord­ing to re­search. Fed­eral and state agri­cul­tural agen­cies are press­ing with greater ur­gency, as well. The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has re­fash­ioned the old food pyra­mid guide­lines: more veg­gies and fruit on school lunch plates, for in­stance. The move­ment in South­west Florida co­in­cides with the food as medicine con­cept at such places as Lee Health, Florida agri­cul­ture and state chefs in schools and low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods to push the farm-to-ta­ble mes­sage.

Back to the Roots started in a univer­sity class­room, Arora and Velez learn­ing that gourmet mush­rooms grew well in cof­fee grounds. They at first tried pitch­ing grow­ing kits to a na­tional gro­cer. Re­jected, they reshuf­fled and to­day mar­ket prod­ucts to some 2,000 re­tail out­lets and on­line.

Ur­ban agri­cul­ture rolls be­yond kits and back­yard farm­ing, of course. Eco­nomic and so­cial ac­tivists to­day farm aban­doned land in towns such as Detroit. Chicago’s Windy City Har­vest is the pro­to­type in ur­ban farm­ing, a non­profit feed­ing thou­sands with fresh pro­duce. These projects also put hun­dreds to work. The root idea is ac­cess­ing qual­ity food in so-called food deserts, neigh­bor­hoods with lit­tle fresh pro­duce. Ur­ban farm­ing can also in­clude live­stock― pygmy goats, chick­ens and minia­ture pigs― raised by 4-H or Future Farm­ers of Amer­ica youth in cities, for ex­am­ple.

Or­ganic farms are also spring­ing up across the coun­try, some 15,000 of them on more than 4 mil­lion acres, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates. Cer­ti­fied or­ganic farms in Florida grow ev­ery­thing from sod to juice to live­stock. The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture in its Or­ganic In­tegrity database lists hun­dreds of Florida or­ganic farms and pro­ces­sors cer­ti­fied by ac­cred­ited agen­cies such as Florida Or­ganic Grow­ers in Gainesville, in fact.

At its core, or­ganic farm­ing is about sus­tain­abil­ity, some­thing which Back to the Roots has suc­cess­fully evan­ge­lized.

Check back­tothe­roots.com for de­tails about its prod­ucts.

Co-founders Nikhil Arora (left) and Ale­jan­dro Velez formed the ker­nel of Back to the Roots in a Cal­i­for­nia col­lege class­room.

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