Berenice Guinel is a campaign officer at So In So Good, a charity funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club helping social and green start-ups. Her latest project is Mushroom Me!, a kit using coffee waste to produce your own mushrooms. She tells us about these marvellous fungi:
So what is Mushroom Me! all about?
Mushroom Me! is a mushroom-growing kit. It is simply a box that you have to open and water twice a day for around two weeks until your mushrooms are ready to be harvested. FoodCycle+ is a social enterprise tackling the food waste issue in Hong Kong by collecting it and turning it into valuable products. This box is one of these products. As part of So In So Good – a programme funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to help social start-ups to grow – I'm launching the Mushroom Me! campaign. The ultimate goal is to show people that waste is not only an issue but can also be turned into cool products. So how will we do that? 1) We will collect coffee grounds from schools (students will collect at home) and coffee shops during one week in February. 2) We will then sell the mushroom-growing kits made from the grounds.
What has the response been so far?
A lot of enthusiasm from individuals, schools and coffee shops. But we're always looking for more!
Where did this idea come from?
From coffee bush to coffee cup, we only consume 0.2% of the plant biomass. The remaining is wasted and it's absurd! Why? Because what is wasted is actually an excellent substrate to grow mushrooms – among many other things, such as deodorising clothes or fridges, for example. FoodCycle+ first established a partnership with Nespresso where all their customers returning their capsules got a mushroom box made from Nespresso coffee waste in exchange. There are so many coffee shops and people making coffee in Hong Kong, so why not involve as many of them as possible in allowing them to grow mushrooms from their own coffee waste?
What’s your background?
I studied business and economics in Paris, then worked in a tech start-up in San Francisco. After that, I decided to put all my energy into start-ups tackling social and green issues. I had this amazing opportunity to come to Hong Kong to launch So In So Good, a charity funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club fostering social entrepreneurship. So I jumped in! I am particularly keen on circular economy and farming, so I immediately fell in love with FoodCycle+'s project.
How far into the crowdsourcing project are you?
The website is done; the first schools and coffee shops are ready. Now we want more of them to get involved. It needs to be massive! The coffee waste collection week will be the third week of February. Students will be able to buy the mushroom boxes made from their own coffee waste. Coffee shops will sell them to their customers. It's a great way to both show their customers that they are acting to recycle their waste and to allow them to enjoy easily growing mushrooms made from their favourite coffee shop waste.
What kind of waste is needed for mushroom growing?
Each box is half-filled with coffee grounds. The rest is other organic waste as well as wood chips. Then we add some mycelia that will 'digest' this food waste and eventually turn it into mushrooms. A few people have raised concerns about eating a vegetable grown from food waste. If you are also concerned about that, you need to know that compost in farms is actually made from food waste as well, which is way better than using fertiliser...
What kind of crop can growers expect from their mini mushroom farms?
When you receive the box, you simply need to cut the top and water it twice a day for around two weeks. When your mushrooms start growing, their size will double each day. It's quite impressive (even magic!). Then you just have to harvest and bring them into your kitchen. You will get 300 grams of mushrooms. Then, if you're lucky, they will grow again from the other side!
What dishes have you made with yours?
Mushrooms are great because they taste amazing in so many recipes, from Chinese-style soup to spaghetti and pizza (they cook some in FoodCycle+'s farm in Sheung Shui and I cannot wait to taste them). I would say that right now I'm craving a mushroom risotto, with a lot of Parmesan cheese of course!
Is it easy for amateur growers?
The mushrooms are super easy to grow! Just spray in the morning and evening. You only need to make sure they don't become too dry. It was actually my first time growing a veggie, so I'm sure anyone can do it.
Mushroom Me! is always looking for more schools and coffee shops to join this programme. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Pre-orders of the mushroom-growing kits will begin on 13 February. Foodie readers can use the special discount code FOODIELOVERS10 when ordering.