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Back to the Roots – Mushrooms and Aquaponics

Aqua Garden from Back to the Roots
Aqua Garden from Back to the Roots
Back to the Roots

These DIY projects to grow mushrooms and herbs at home are made easy with eco-friendly kits by two UC Berkeley grads.

ANAHEIM, July, 2013 — Some of the most unusual products at Natural Products Expo West were at the Back to the Roots booth. On display were living oyster mushrooms, thriving in a specially designed recycled cardboard box filled with used coffee grounds. Also exhibited was the Aquaponics Garden, a self-sustaining system in which fish feed on plants as the plants clean and filter the fish tank water. While a quick internet search turns up dozens of do-it-yourself ideas to build your own aquaponic garden and grow your own mushrooms, these kits make it easy.

Co-Founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, both UC Berkeley grads, were headed into investment banking before learning in a class of a way to grow gourmet mushrooms in recycled coffee grounds. They played around with the mushrooms, received some interest from Whole Foods and decided to become mushroom farmers. “We realized our company’s true passion wasn’t in bulk mushroom farming,” says Velez, “but rather in creating tools to make food personal again and to bring beautiful design, sustainability, education, and food into homes and classrooms around the world!”

The Back to the Roots' grow-at-home mushroom kit grows up to 1 1/2 lbs of oyster mushrooms per box. The kit can be used twice. Just place on a window sill, mist a couple of times per day and harvest. “The co-founders stuck with oyster mushrooms because they're so easy for anyone to grow,” says Megan Yarnall, company spokesperson. ”They're a very aggressive mushroom so the harvest time is very short.” The mushroom kit costs $20, but the company will donate one kit to an elementary school after a photo of the fully grown mushrooms is posted on the Back to the Roots Facebook site.

Both products make it possible to grow food easily in almost any space. “The general purpose in all of the products is to grow food sustainably, using what we already have. Not only that, but kids can also see an ecosystem in action and learn about where food comes from,” comments Yarnall.

The Aquaponics Garden kit includes a tank and garden top, air pump, five pots with pebbles, seeds (mixture of various herbs), fish food and water conditioners. The best place to keep the garden, which sells for $60, is next to a wall under a window so that the wall blocks the sunlight from the fish while the plants can still receive the sunlight directly.

Fish are the only element left to be purchased. Betta fish run from just $1.50 to $10 at Petco. “The standard for fish-keeping is one inch of fish per one gallon of water,” explains Yarnall. “The garden is three gallons, so three inches of fish is perfect.”So three one-inch long fish or one fish three inches in length will suffice to keep spinach, baby greens, oregano, beans, basil, mint, parsley or thyme thriving. The closed-loop eco-system uses the fish waste to naturally fertilize the plants. In turn, the plants clean the water for the fish. The fish must be fed but the tank never has to be cleaned. If leaves are plucked, the plant should re-grow. Once fully harvested, new seeds will be needed.