#10 hunger
Matthew Unger / Sarah Klein

Colourful Gourmet Fungi: Homegrown And Decorative

Urbanization is a concept for our times, as cities draw increasing numbers of people. As they grow from metropolises into megacities, other regions turn ever more desolate. At the same time, in the world's densely populated areas, the appetite for fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticides or other chemical additives is also growing.

What, though, is to be done when cities can no longer offer space for garden plots and inhabitants have neither a terrace nor a balcony to call their own? When there is no room to grow a little organic home garden?

Two young men from Canada have come up with a clever solution: a cross between an oyster mushroom and bamboo – the Mushboo, perfectly suited for home mushroom cultivation. The mushrooms grow from a little bamboo tube, which is a stylish addition to any décor. And they grow on: waste coffee. Although the Mushboo has only been in production since May 2012, the hybrid is already enjoying popularity. We spoke to Matthew Unger, one of Mushboo's inventors.

Matt, Mushboo is a cross between a mushroom and bamboo. What inspired you to develop such a hybrid?

The idea started out as a mushroom kit we wanted to develop that would digest waste using edible gourmet fungi. The ceramic watering device is the key to the Mushboo system, so we wanted something that would match the warm tones of the clay. After researching options in ceramic, stainless steel and recovered marine plastics, a friend suggested bamboo. Thereby I discovered that, like mushrooms, bamboo remediates and regenerates soil. Each Mushboo is grown on waste coffee grounds. The mushrooms remediate the toxins, turning the waste coffee into a high quality living soil, while simultaneously producing delicious gourmet mushrooms right on your kitchen counter. Pairing mushrooms and bamboo seemed like a perfect fit.

"Mushboo provides our customers with an entirely new experience!"

Your business is still very young – are you surprised that its popularity has already spread around the globe?

Mushboo provides our customers with an entirely new experience, most likely something they have never heard of before. When you take a difficult sterile and chemical-free process like growing mushrooms and turn it into a "just add water" countertop unit, you can expect green and black thumbs alike to take notice. Many of our customers love their Mushboo because it's easier to grow than houseplants. The popularity and media attention we have received is exciting for us, but I have a feeling this is just the beginning.

Who are your clients? Are they more greenies, hipsters, or just normal folks?

The product was first picked up by the local science and green communities, mostly because this was our immediate network. Our biggest customers now tend to be people looking for a new way to experience food, their own homegrown food.

The Mushboo project already won a couple of prizes – how does it feel for you as its developer and founder?

It's exciting! Every person working at Mushboo is here because they share our vision of diverting waste and remediating it. We know we are setting a new standard for how waste is valued and repurposed, but it is always nice to hear someone else say it. As the founder of Mushboo, it just fuels the fire to keep going and growing at what sometimes feels like a record-breaking pace.

"We created a process that allows us to grow mushrooms on waste coffee at the same speed as commercial mushroom farms."

What was your greatest success in the last couple of months?

Our greatest success was in our mushroom research. We created a process that allows us to grow mushrooms on waste coffee at the same speed as commercial mushroom farms. This puts our little mushroom farm in the city right beside our feed source, coffee grounds, and next door to a high-end restaurant looking for fresh locally grown food.

What are the next steps for Mushboo?

2013 will be a very busy year for us as we open up to both the United States and the retail market. We are growing quickly as we find more space and staff, and increase our production capacity. We are working on some very exciting projects here in Vancouver to support our local urban agriculture movement by using our Mushboo digested waste coffee as living soil. Instead of purchasing dead chemical fertilizers, local urban farmers can significantly enhance their growing capacity by using soil that is full of underground life: the mushroom colony.

Are you expanding? And if you aren't already shipping worldwide – are you looking for a business partner in Europe?

We are expanding into the USA right now, but we are also looking at several key countries in Europe that have shown a lot of interest in Mushboo. Once we are ready to open up in a new city or country, we will do so in partnership with a franchisee in that local community.

"Refills are available in various gourmet species and colours, allowing for a new experience every time."

Back to the product: I don't have a green thumb. But if I'd like to have my own Mushboo – what do I have to do to get it to grow?

Just add water. To start your Mushboo, you put the Mushboo toolkit together – consisting of a bamboo vase, mushroom sleeves and a watering spike – and add water to the bowl at the top. The ceramic watering device will regulate the rate of moisture flowing into the mushroom and coffee, so all you have to do is make sure there is water in the bowl. Once the mushrooms start to appear, you can help them grow bigger by misting them with water to keep them from drying out too soon. While misting isn't necessary, it is a fun way to coax your Mushboo into growing more food. Once you harvest your Mushboo, you just keep adding water until you have had several harvests. Once you have had a few harvests, you can refill your Mushboo with a new refill cartridge. The refills are available in various gourmet species and colours, allowing for a new experience every time.

On your Facebook page you did a short survey about which colour your fans like best – is there a difference in the flavour of a blue and a mocha mushroom?

Yes, there is a difference. Each colour option is a different species of edible mushroom. The Mocha Mushboo is an oyster mushroom (P. ostreatus) while the Pink Mushboo is a pink oyster. We have several different species that we are testing and occasionally we will offer a limited number of one of these unique and beautiful mushrooms.

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