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The Entrepreneurs Reconnecting People to Where Food Comes From

Learning about sustainability is important at every age. Entrepreneurs Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez want kids and families to understand where food comes from and how to grow it.

The two met as seniors at UC Berkeley where one business ethics class changed everything. Their professor mentioned, “Gourmet mushrooms can grow on spent coffee grounds.”

While both students were curious about sustainability, neither had been gardeners, or had a background in food or agriculture. After graduating from college, they turned down job offers and spent nine months testing their product. In time, they were able to grow oyster mushrooms repeatedly and then scale up the enterprise. 

They’re now full-time urban mushroom farmers in Oakland, California, and are focused on building their organic garden brand Back to the Roots for a new generation. It’s a certified B corporation, meaning they meet the highest standards of social and environmental impact. Whole Foods was their first partner.

“We just want to be with the brand that inspires curiosity,” Arora said.


Last year, Back to the Roots launched the first 100 percent USA-grown seed brand, which started at 100 Home Depot stores. Now the program is expanding nationwide, including at the home improvement retailer and 1000 grocery stores, including Albertsons and HEB.

“Sustainability starts off with being transparent,” said Arora, who encourages more brands to say where their seeds are from.


Even if you don’t have a backyard, you can still grow with Back to the Roots’ indoor gardening kits. From growing herbs and vegetables to flowers, gardeners young and old reap so much from the experience.

“Gardening especially with kids, it’s so much more than just the dirt or the seeds,” Arora said. “it’s kind of that whole experience, and I think that connection to the land and to food that comes from it,” Arora said.

While the pandemic has been challenging for their business model, it’s also been an opportunity.

“We saw a ton of enthusiasm and excitement actually with parents at home looking for ways to keep their kids’ hands and minds busy, and teachers looking for ways to kind of do fun curriculums via Zoom or they could show things growing,” he said. “And then just people at home rediscovering the joy that comes from gardening.”

Giving back

Through the  #GrowOneGiveOne campaign, in which a grower posts a picture on Facebook or Instagram of a Back to the Roots product they’ve grown, the company donates a gardening kit and curriculum to an elementary school classroom of the grower’s choice.

Arora says giving back is, “a huge part of our passion for what we do.”

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