Why We Need To Get 'Back To The Roots'

08/09/2016 01:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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It all started with a random peripheral factoid in a business ethics class at UC Berkeley: mushrooms can be grown in coffee grounds. Who knew?

Then came the buckets of coffee grounds with mushrooms sprouting wildly, cluttering up a frat house kitchen during Spring Break.

Soon thereafter those mushrooms were on the menu at Alice Waters' legendary restaurant Chez Panisse.

Fast forward to now, and the result is "Back To The Roots", a start-up that aims to change the way the next generation views and experiences its relationship to everyday foods. Founded by two eager and dedicated Berkeley grads, this company wants to introduce families, especially urban families and kids, to the sources of their food, and provide a template for healthier eating, especially in underserved and low-income communities.

Like so many of the progressive companies created by millennials that are springing up across the social and economic landscape, this one is fueled by creativity and powered by passion. Chasing the almighty dollar without conscience or concern has become passe; chasing down values with an emphasis on workable models is the new norm. The conscience of an emerging generation has fused with technology and business savvy to create a new paradigm, and one that is sorely needed and decidedly admirable.

So how did this go from business school to frat house to mushroom farming to multi-million-dollar start-up promoting a down-home connection to the food we eat?

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Meet Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who turned away from Wall Street and focused on Main Street instead. Individually intrigued by that random coffee grounds minutia tossed out by their professor, they joined forces to experiment. One thing led to another, and suddenly they were tossing their lucrative finance sector job offers out the window and nurturing fungi.

They found that people were fascinated with the process and wanted to participate. Thus was born the notion that you didn't need to have access to a "back forty" to teach your kids how stuff grows - you could do it on a windowsill or kitchen table, or even better, in a classroom. Thus was born the Mushroom Kit and Garden in a Can, soon to be followed by a Water Garden that incorporated a home for fish.

And why not take it further, why not make the connection to other food groups? The mission morphed into providing simple foods with transparency in the manufacture and marketing. How about a trio of breakfast cereals with three straightforward ingredients -- in environmentally friendly packaging of course.

And then, let's get all this into stores and schools across the country so that kids across the social spectrum can connect to their food in a fun way, learn about where it all comes from, and get a healthy meal in the bargain. Done, and done. From Costco to Whole Foods to public school cafeterias, Back To The Roots is making a difference.

As a B-Corp certified company, "Back To The Roots" is a perfect example of the new consciousness emerging in the business community, of companies that are looking to be defined by social and environmental performance as much as by profit margins. It's a powerful and reassuring movement, and one that deserves our support and encouragement.

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And in this instance, it's just a lot of fun! I grew some mushrooms and herbs and tomatoes, and it was a blast to watch them germinate and flourish... and eating them was the best part. Oh, and my "honorary nieces" were thrilled beyond words about their water garden, and learned so much in the process.

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It all starts small, and grows. The plants, the products, the ideas, the movement. And we all know about the little acorn and the great oak tree, right? Let's start planting folks...