Urban farming hadn't been the plan for Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez. But during spring semester at UC Berkeley in 2009, the two discovered that leftover coffee grounds can be used instead of soil to grow gourmet mushrooms.
Turning down job offers in consultancy and investment banking, Arora and Velez spent the summer after graduation training themselves to be urban farmers via YouTube videos.
With a $5,000 social innovation grant from UC Berkeley's Chancellor, the two started Oakland-based Back to the Roots, a gourmet mushroom farm supplying restaurants and groceries.
In 2010, Back to the Roots expanded with grow-at-home mushroom kits, now available in 300 Whole Foods stores. Between the kits and farm, the company will repurpose one million pounds of coffee grounds by the end of the year.
"We're really trying to prove you can operate a successful, profitable business and still take care of your community, environment and stakeholders," said Velez.
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