Nikhil Arora's and Alejandro Velez' unbridled enthusiasm for their Back To The Roots brand and products is absolutely infectious. Several hundred CPG pros interested in natural and organic food had the pleasure of hearing these talented entrepreneurs tell their start-up story at the Esca Bona symposium in Austin recently.
The two UC Berkeley classmates came together over the idea of growing mushrooms in used coffee grounds, and now lead a multimillion-dollar CPG company that reconnects consumers with their food's source. Whether it's their Mushroom Farm, Water Garden or Garden In A Can, Back To The Roots gets consumers growing some of their own food in their kitchens. Sure, these products are more about entertainment than nourishment, but they've broken open an important new "grow your own" idea space in which others are following.
Take for instance the start-up, Green Onyx, also exhibiting at Esca Bona. The team at Green Onyx has focused on the southeast Asian super nutrient Khai Nam, a tiny "green caviar" vegetable that grows exceptionally fast on fresh-water surfaces — and packs the combined nutritional benefits of broccoli, kale and spinach. But don't go looking for Khai Nam next to those greens at your local Whole Foods or supermarket. Green Onyx is developing the patented technology to grow your own Khai Nam in a highly compact aquaponic structure on your countertop. As Green Onyx' web site says, "from field to fork in one system."
I got to try a spoonful of Khai Nam in Austin. Interesting mouth feel from these tiny green spheres but virtually no taste. They would never make it onto Julia Child's plate (even the Green Onyx web site only describes them as "pretty tasty"). But plenty of health-conscious folks will embrace growing their own high-density, super nutrient veggies to add a nutritional punch to almost anything. It certainly makes living by Michael Pollan's seven-word rules for food — "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" — a whole lot easier to live by. Hell, push a button and dispense some Khai Nam onto that bologna sandwich and feel better about yourself.
My household used to buy lots of carbonated water. We started feeling a little guilty about all the bottles we were recycling and feeling a little tired of lugging them all home. Enter SodaStream. Now we create our own carbonated beverages with countertop technology. Supermarket bypassed, and a lot more trips to Bed Bath and Beyond for CO2 cartridges.
Like a lot of utopian visions that imagine a return to simpler times, I suspect that "Eat Local" won't ultimately lead to a back-to-the-farm reality. As time marches on, I suspect eating local might be a more Jetsonian vision where green pellets are dispensed directly into your oral unit. Bon appetit!