Two mushroom farmers have designed a process of using discarded coffee grounds to grow mushrooms in disused city centre office buildings, in a bid to cut waste and provide a sustainable source of food.
The pair, Adam Sayner and Eric Jong, run GroCycle, a company set-up to make use of coffee material that would otherwise end up in landfill. The organisation is not for profit and, as well as producing food for local cafes and restaurants, will offer skills and training for unemployed people in the area.
By producing the mushrooms in urban centres, transport costs and emissions will be greatly reduced, and the product can be on dinner plates and shop shelves within hours of being picked. The initial project will utilise an empty building in the centre of Exeter, with the first crop of mushrooms set to be harvested in early autumn.
Eric Jong – “When you think of all the energy that has gone into growing the crop of coffee, importing it, grinding it and then putting it through a machine, that’s quite a lot. This way we are making that energy go further”
Speaking of the project, Adam said: “It’s so simple, and with so much coffee waste generated in a city centre it is a perfect match. What is even better is that most mushrooms are grown entirely on sawdust, which has to be sterilised, which is obviously an expensive process and uses more energy. But coffee is sterile for 24 hours as a result of the coffee-making process, so it’s perfect.”
Adam also notes that his motivation comes not only in making use of waste products, but in providing benefit to the local community. He said: “Right from the start the vision was that we would do some kind of social enterprise. I think there is a lot of strength in doing a social enterprise linking people together. I like the idea of partnership.”
Eric, a former international business executive, decided to take part in the mushroom growing initiative as he wanted to step away from the corporate world and instead focus on something with significant societal benefits. He said: “We both knew we wanted to create a different sort of business. We think this will be the first of its kind but we would like to see this type of urban mushroom farm in every city in Britain.
He added: “When you think of all the energy that has gone into growing the crop of coffee, importing it, grinding it and then putting it through a machine, that’s quite a lot. This way we are making that energy go further.”
Matt Bell, chief executive of Exeter Community Initiatives, a charity that helps people without an education to gain transferable skills, has backed the project.
He said: “I grabbed this opportunity immediately. We’d already identified that tackling long-term unemployment was a key priority for this year and this was a perfect vehicle to train and skill up those in desperate need of help. At the same time it saves energy, reduces waste provides food and has a low environmental cost. It’s just an all-round brilliant idea.
“Supporting this project could not only change the way we can farm and the way we are able to grow some foods, but it can change lives.”