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Back to the Roots
“Back to the Roots,” or BTTR (pronounced “better”) is an eco-conscious company focused on sustainable living and converting waste from landfills through the creation of an urban urban farming products. However once you step inside their warehouse in Oakland California you will find two men with a simple message of reconnecting people with their food and encouraging the world to literally eat homegrown foods.The four-year-old company was started by recent UC Berkeley Business graduates Nikhil Arora, 25,and Alejandro Velez, 26. During a business ethics class the two learned that people living in impoverished communities would often grow foods from other agricultural waste, one of them being mushrooms from coffee ground waste. Without any prior knowledge of growing edible mushrooms, the men began researching and viewing various Youtube videos before created a small test site with mushrooms in paint cans in a fraternity house kitchen. After a successful harvest, and strong business model (make revenue off collecting the waste, growing the mushroom, and then selling our own waste) with low overhead costs, the duo took their mushrooms to Whole Foods executives. “BTTR received an initial $5,000 social innovation grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor, followed by a $10,000 BBC/Newsweek social venture grant, a $50,000 Hitachi Foundation young entrepreneurs grant, a $50,000 MillerCoors Urban Entrepreneurs Series business grant and a $25,000 loan from Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program.” 
With their start up cash they formed BTTR Ventures and were able to start producing DIY mushroom kits. As demand grew the company was able to expand and create other sustainable products like the “Aquafarm”, self cleaning fish tank that has the ability to grow food on fish waste. In 2013 BTTR partnered with Gourmet Mushrooms Inc, and began adding agricultural waste products to their coffee ground based soil like sawdust, wheat bran, rice straws, and corn cobs.
In addition to helping the world become more sustainable the company also wanted to create “green-collar” jobs for members of their community. To do this BTTR collaborated with the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program, known as CalWorks. Both government run programs aim to employ parents who have been without work for more than six months and offers a subsidy as an incentive to employers.
“We think this whole sustainable, grow-at-home movement is very stuck in Berkeley with the hippy stereotype—but there is such a huge potential here to take this business model across the country and make it more mainstream through good design and ease of use. That’s the future.” Arora. 
Jasmine Jackson, community happiness Guru for the Back to the Roots company thinks that their products go beyond sustainability stating they strive to be "more innovative" by creating products that are "Not just sustainable products, but an experience." by connecting people with the food they eat. This goes hand in hand with their companies mission statement.
Gourmet grow-it-at-home Mushroom Kit
You don’t need a green thumb or large area to grow these mushrooms, just ten days of light watering, a small space to place the box, and you will have a small garden of edible gourmet oyster caps and up to one pound after multiple harvests. The kit which sells for $19.99 includes oyster mushroom spores, growing bag, BTTR planter, mister and instructional and educational booklet.The oyster mushroom or Pleurotus, is one of the most widely cultivated for consumption in the world. Once grown, oyster mushrooms continue to spawn even after they have been cut, making them ideal to store and sell for culinary use. If the idea of having fresh gourmet mushrooms at your disposal isn’t enough each kit purchased takes three pounds out of the waste stream potentially heading to landfills. In addition the company has also started a campaign giving consumers an opportunity to give back to youth programs. By sending in a picture of your growing mushroom kit BTTR in turn will donate a mushroom kit to an elementary classroom of your choice. 
Back to the Roots now has a product called the aquafarm. The unique thing about this product is that that utilizes the science of aquaponics , which is the combination of aquaculture  and hydroponics . To understand aquaponics more, it is important to understand what aquaculture and hydroponics are as well. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “aquaculture is the production of aquatic animals and plants under controlled conditions for all or parts of their lifecycles.”  Whereas, hydroponics takes place when plants are grown without soil. “The nutrients that the plants normally derive from the soil are simply dissolved into water instead, and depending on the type of hydroponic system used, the plants roots are suspended in, flooded with or misted with the nutrient solution so that the plant can derive the elements it needs for growth.”  Aquaponics is the combination of the two: fish farming and growing plants without soil, which means there is fish in a tank, and plants floating above them. “The fish provide provide the fertilizer along with the bacteria in the tank.”  The plants roots, then, act as a filter to keep the tank clean. Through doing this, the aquaponics system creates a sustainable way to grow plants while saving time, energy, and water. The science behind the product is simple in laymans terms the Back To The Roots Aquafarm works in four simple steps.
- The fish waste contains nitrogen.
- Their waste is lifted up to the planter area with the power of an air pump and is picked up by the plant roots.
- The nitrogen and other nutrients are then absorbed by the plants giving them the nutrients to grow.
- In turn the water gets cleaned by the plants which provides a clean environment for the fish.
This creates a self sustaining ecosystem, that not only provides aesthetic appeal but also a sense of pride by connecting you to your food on a personal level.
Accolades the company has received for their work in sustainability and green living.
- BusinessWeek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25
- BBC Newsweek Social Venture World Challenge, Top 3 Finalist
- UCLA Opportunity Green Conference Top 25 Sustainable Company
- UC Berkeley Social Venture Competition, Winner
- BusinessWeek Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs SVN Innovation Award Winners
- Hitachi Foundation/Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Winner
- Wal-Mart Better Living Competition, Western Regional Winners
- Wall Street Journal Finalist, Most Innovative Small Business
- CNN 10 Generation Next Entrepreneurs
- John Muir Associate Business of the Year Conservation Award
- Maker's Faire Blue Ribbon Product
- Top 5 Hottest Product, Fancy Food Show
- Oakland Indie Award: Innovative Newbie
- Miller Coors Urban Business Plan Competition Winners
- Sofi Gold Winner: Outstanding Food Gift
- LOHAS Business Plan Competition Winner
- Saïd Global Entrepreneur Challenge Winner
- Oxford Saïd Business School Venture Fund Finalists
- Top 10 Green Companies - GreenDeals
- National Hardware Show - Best New Product Award
- UC Berkeley Bplan Product and Service Track and People's Choice Winners]
- Food Spring Sofi Award Silver Finalists
- Mother Nature Network - Top 30 Fresh Thinkers in the Innovation Generation
- William James Foundation "Honorable Mention" Award
- Poder 30 Under 30
- Forbes 30 Under 30
- Martha Stewart American Made Honoree
- Top 100 Green Latino Leaders (awarded to Alejandro Velez)
- Business Achievement Award by the City of Oakland
- January 2013's Social Enterprises of the Month