Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “gardening”

Interesting Dirt – Roger Ingalls

Most of us don’t think about dirt or topsoil but we should. Without it we don’t exist.

photo from popsci.com

The diameter of the Earth is approximately 8,000 miles which is equivalent to 506,880,000 inches. That’s roughly a half a billion inches across. Now, this next fact is something we all should think long and hard about; only the outer two to eight inches is suitable for plant life. Look at your hand…precious dirt (topsoil) is only as deep as your hand is long. That’s an amazingly thin layer of life giving material.

We treat dirt like…well, dirt. We wash it away, pollute it, sterilize and kill it. Yes, natural and healthy topsoil is a living ecosystem full of beneficial microbes and fungi that can be killed with manmade synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Did you know that a tablespoon of healthy soil has more living critters than there are people on Earth? The invisible creatures help feed the plants. Microbes or beneficial bacteria break down minerals into elements the plants can uptake and the fungi pump water and nutrients onto and into the plant’s roots. The plant roots, in turn, give sugars (carbohydrates) to the bacteria and fungi which they use for food. It’s a symbiotic and sustainable relationship.

Plants will grow in dead dirt or lifeless sand if they are treated with manmade fossil-fuel fertilizers, pesticides and a lot of water. However, they will not be as nutritious as plants grown in living soil because they lack nutrient density.

Improve your health and save the soil…eat local, eat organic.

Better yet, grow your own.


Roger Ingalls is well-traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Coffee Grounds 2

Now I might be getting a bit carried away here, but I do love coffee. Drinking it, I mean. I also love coffee shops, coffee shop culture, growing mushrooms in coffee grounds and, well gardening with coffee grounds (note the common theme?).

So settle down and enjoy your first steaming cup of the morning and indulge me for another post.

Here is an explanation of what to do. The reason I chose this one is the recognition of this natural resource by a big coffee company (who shall remain nameless) and their adoption of this as national policy for their customers.

Maybe we can create hope for a better world from the bottom of our coffee cups. Best of all, we really don’t need to do much to achieve it. Now that’s a great way to begin the day.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Coffee Grounds, Mushrooms, and Student Initiative

Rewind: Spring 2009 and two seniors at Cal were sitting in a lecture for their business ethics course. Both had offers from Corporate America in investment banking and consulting. In this lecture they heard that 7 million tons of coffee are produced around the world. With only 1% ending up in the cup, the rest is destined for the landfill. What a waste.

Somewhere in that lecture Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez also learned that gourmet mushrooms can be grown on recycled coffee grounds. They mused over the possibility of diverting this waste stream into producing gourmet mushrooms, and started to learn how to actually grow mushrooms from coffee grounds. As business majors they wanted to explore if this idea could work as the basis of a full scale social venture.

Arora and Velez cruised the Berkeley coffee store and cafes collecting their used coffee grounds. Out of the first 10 buckets in which they planted, mushrooms only grew in one. They took that batch to the local Berkeley Whole Foods, and received enough positive feedback to create a plan. They submitted their business proposal to “Bears Breaking Boundaries,” an entrepreneurial competition sponsored by the UC Berkeley Chancellor and received $5,000 seed (or should I say plug) money.

The two grow gourmet pearl-oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, and sell kits to consumers who are inspired to try for themselves.

After graduation, their business, Back to the Roots, was born and their mushrooms are found on the shelves of Whole Foods. But this is not just about business or the initiative of a couple of smart students (though this is pretty awesome) , their business is an example of sustainability and social responsibility. Best of all is their utilization of a large waste stream to produce something nutritional and valuable. Even the rich soil that is a by product of their production line is donated to community gardens, local nurseries and urban farms – a growing phenomenon in Berkeley.

Then they took the principle one step further. “Starting off as purely an urban mushroom farm, Back to the Roots has recently transformed into an organization dedicated to letting everyone grow their own fresh food right at home…as local as it gets! Our vision is to serve as a standard bearer for innovation and responsibility in our community and inspire others to work towards a more sustainable future. We’re doing this first through our Easy-to-Grow Mushroom Garden.

These mushroom-growing kits that we sell on our website are packaged in post-consumer cardboard and printed with soy ink, an environmentally better alternative. The kits arrive in the mail ready to grow: we wanted to create a sustainable product that is easy and simple, so everyone can enjoy growing and eating fresh mushrooms (including kids…who love watching them grow so fast!). The Easy-to-Grow Mushroom Gardens yield multiple crops, and you get up to one pound of delicious pearl-oyster mushrooms in as little as 10 days from your first crop. The soil inside is safe and sustainable too – 100% recycled coffee grounds! And while you may be worrying that the mushrooms taste like coffee, plenty of chefs, like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, can attest to their authentic nutty flavor.”

The box arrives through the post and the mushrooms are ready to grow … right out of the box. They even donate 5% of sales to breast cancer research and a further 5% of all sales to support local breast cancer awareness organizations – co-founder, Alex, fought through cancer in high school – and educating the community on the great health benefits of oyster mushrooms.”

Finally, this is really cool:


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: