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Times of the Islands Magazine

Back to the Roots: DIY backyard farming, California firm’s grassroots push

Jun 26, 2017 02:08PM ● By Kevin

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 a 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 for details about its products.

Written by Craig Garrett.