Funghi Espresso, from coffee waste to mushrooms

Nov 03, 2016 | written by:

Funghi Espresso is an agricultural startup inspired by the theories of the Blue Economy, in which the waste from a production cycle do not become waste, but generate new energy, new wealth and new jobs. The idea that mimics nature, where there are no waste but only materials that become constantly new resources, comes directly from Antonio Di Giovanni and Vincenzo Sangiovanni. Antonio, bio-waste management expert, tell us about this initiative. 

How the start up Funghi Espresso was born?

I am an agronomist and I graduated two years ago at the Faculty of Agriculture in Florence. My passions for agriculture, environment and landscape have always led me to search for solutions to reduce our environmental impact on the planet. During my studies I have dedicated myself to the organization of conferences and debates on various environmental issues, such as: the impact of pesticides in agriculture, GMOs and the huge problem related to the production of waste. It was 2008 when for the waste crisis in Campania, I organized an initiative to talk about sustainable alternatives for the reduction of waste, inviting Rossano Ercolini (elementary school teacher and popularizer of the Zero Waste strategy who in 2013 has received the Goldman Prize) and Paul Connett (popularizer of the Zero Waste strategy in the world).

After that something changed, indeed, from that moment I dedicated myself with passion and determination to search for best practices, documenting and studying first of all the best practices in our country, particularly focusing on the small town of Capannori in the province of Lucca.

From 2013, after years of activism and studies on the subject, I became collaborator of the Zero Waste Research Center in the municipality of Capannori, dealing with the enhancement of organic waste in agriculture. Right from the study on coffee capsules born from Zero Waste Research Center, the study on the reuse of coffee grounds presented by me in the showroom 'Il gusto di un caffè sostenibile' was founded in March 2013. Continuing my research on the subject I found the theory of the Blue Economy of the Belgian economist Paoli Gunter, who proposes a system where product cycles are integrated with each other and a cycle waste becomes a resource for another cycle. The project 'Dal caffè alle proteine', first pilot project of this kind in Italy, was born in September 2014 in the elementary and middle school of Lammari (Capannori) where about 200 students produced mushrooms using coffee grounds and then prepared together with their mothers some great recipes. After this first pilot project, the experience with Vincenzo Sangiovanni was born thanks to the network of Zero Waste that brought us together. Immediately after our meeting, Funghi Espresso was founded in March 2013 thanks to a Japanese investor who believed in the business model.

Why coffee grounds? Which nutrients and minerals contain?

The coffee ground can be valued as a substrate for the growth of mushrooms, because it contains minerals (for example nitrogen) of which the mushrooms feeds for its growth. In this way you can produce healthy and good foods, reducing municipal waste and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, they introduce the concepts of urban farm and circular economy, where even the waste products from the production of mushrooms are recovered to produce excellent compost as a natural fertilizer for the soil.

What types of mushrooms do you cultivate?

We cultivate mushrooms of the genus Pleurotus. There are different varieties of these mushrooms which are distinguished by color. There is the gray mushroom Pleurotus Ostreatus, then there is the yellow mushroom Pleurotus Cornucopiae and, among the most special, there is the pink mushroom Pleurotus Djamor.

How the cultivation is done? What is the environmental impact associated with this method of culture?

Funghi Espresso is a farm without land and as such carries its cultivation in places suitable for recreating the perfect habitat for mushrooms. Every day we go in the bars of the historic center of Florence and collect the coffee ground product during the day. Within 24 hours, it is processed, cleansed of any impurities and inoculated with the mycelium of the mushroom chosen for cultivation. The inoculated coffee ground is placed in bags in a dark room for 20 days, where it will remain until it is ready to be put in the fruiting room with the light and the humidity to 90%. The mushrooms collected are sold to farmers markets, to purchasing groups and to some vegan and vegetarian restaurants. The environmental impact of our production process is very low, indeed we use electrical tools for collecting the coffee grounds and the substrate is once again recovered to produce compost.

What services offers your startup?

Our startup in addition to covering the production and marketing of mushrooms and home cultivation kits, offers training courses and workshops for everyone interested in wanting to replicate our model. We also developed a project called 'Dal caffè alle proteine' for schools where students perform in small what we do every day in the company.

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