One man’s waste is another man’s resource. This principle inspired by the circular economy lies at the very heart of “La Boîte à Champignons” business model. The company, founded in 2011 near Paris, went about transforming coffee grounds into a substrate to grow mushrooms, while contributing to local development by hiring new recruits distant from the labour market. Arnaud Ulrich, one of the three co-founders, tells us more about this urban agriculture enterprise, which combines circular economy and social responsibility.
Could you tell us more about “La Boîte à Champignons”? Where did the idea come from?
Arnaud Ulrich : Our goal is to deliver services to the community. How? By transforming urban residue into quality food, while creating jobs for people out of work, and spreading our model into homes, businesses and schools thanks to different products and services. For us, recycling coffee grounds to grow oyster mushrooms, means transforming locally available waste into a food resource. This was the rather crazy idea of urban agriculture that we launched in 2011. Since then, Cédric Péchard, Grégoire Bleu and I – the three founders – have been developing this innovative economic model that is designed for the constraints and the needs of towns and cities. We “upcycle”, by imitating nature, which has no notion of waste. We transform the coffee grounds we collect into substrate to grow oyster mushrooms, used by some of the greatest chefs in Paris, then we give them to market gardeners at the end of the chain to fertilise their crops.
Tell us about the various steps of the process, from the collection of the coffee grounds, to their reuse to grow mushrooms.
A.U. : We collect large volumes of coffee grounds from companies nearby, then we pasteurise them on our production site. Then we mix them with chips of wood and the oyster mushroom mycelium (the seed of the mushroom). People on professional integration schemes make these preparations and put them either in large grow bags to grow the fresh mushrooms, which we harvest and sell every day to some of the most prestigious restaurants in the Paris region, or in the mushroom boxes, which are growing kits for the general public.
So your business is an example of circular economy and social responsibility. What do these two models have in common?
A.U. : In a socially responsible economy, there is enough room for everyone. The circular economy model creates value from a resource that is often left unused: waste. Creating new resources, while helping people to get back into work at the same time, are initiatives that address the same imperative: protecting our environmental assets and our resources, and capitalize on human potential.
In 2013, you launched the “La Boîte à Champignons” growing kits for the general public. Have they been a success?
A.U. : Our growing kits are like miniature versions of our company. Thanks to these kits, everyone has access to the circular economy. In 2013, we launched our first “ready-to-grow” growing kit. And in 2015, we launched the “do-it-yourself” kit. The latter kit goes one step further, as it is the user who has to transform the coffee grounds into tasty mushrooms.
In 2016, we adapted this concept to children with “Kipousse”, a kit containing five incredible experiences (recycle, create the substrate, grow, garden, cook). We have even produced an educational kit for schools.
Any new projects in the pipeline?
A.U. : Yes, of course. In another circular economy initiative, we are developing a new product: “micro shoots”. These “mini-plants” feed on the CO2 released by the mushroom farm.
Credit: La Boite à Champignons
Credit: La Boite à Champignons