Using Mushrooms to Teach Kids About Food Ownership

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Food is the fuel of human beings. To stay strong and healthy we eat healthy things. Sounds like a pretty simple concepts right?  But sometimes the simplest of concepts are the hardest.

I know it sounds crazy but one of the biggest relationships we’ll ever have in our life is with food (another one is money).  A kid’s relationship to food will last their lifetime and will affect every aspect of their life from their health, to their education, to their career, to their romantic relationships, to the actual length of their life.

That’s why it’s so important to teach children about ownership when it comes to what they put in their mouth.  Ownership that applies not only what they should eat (healthy food), to how it’s grown or made (without chemicals), to how it affects the bigger picture (the environment).

But how do you teach such grand, and somewhat overwhelming, concepts in a simple and fun way?  One great way is using a mushroom kit from Back to the Roots.  It’s interactive and fun – kids spray the mushrooms with water as they grow – and these kits can grow up grow up to 1 1/2 lbs of tasty organic oyster mushrooms in as little as 10 days right from the box.

The story of Back to Roots is steeped in taking ownership.  In 2009, Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora were in their last semester at UC Berkeley and heading into the corporate world.  Two months away from graduation they came across the idea during a lecture in their Business Ethics class of being able to potentially grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into wages and fresh, local food, they experimented in Alex’s fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of tasty oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds.

With that one bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse, and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, the duo took a leap of faith and turned down their investment banking and consulting job offers to become full-time urban mushroom farmers.   After six months of experimenting, they sold their first 3.14 pounds of mushroom to the Berkeley Whole Foods in October of 2009.  Their kits are now sold at over 300 Whole Foods nationwide.

Back to the Roots was founded with vision of creating a movement that constantly inspires, innovates, and “responsibilitates” – a phrase they coined meaning to facilitate and promote community responsibility.

They’ve only been around for less than three years and they’re on track to have recycled 3.6 million pounds of Peet’s Coffee & Tea coffee grounds that would have otherwise been thrown out.  In 2011, they helped families grow over 250,000 lbs of fresh food at home.

With nutritious plants bursting from the ground, spring is a great time to teach kids about food ownership.  And if you think a mushroom kit is the way to do that, Back to the Roots is offering ModernMom readers a 10% discount for anyone interested in a kit – just use the promo code: mushrooms4me10

Kat Thomas is a Renaissance Foodie. So far she has been: a cook, a personal chef, a critic, a blogger, a caterer, a server, and a home gardener. When she is not writing or cooking you can usually find her at one of Santa Monica’s four farmers market talking to the local growers. Visit her blog at blog.edibleskinny.com

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