Urban farming: Parisians wake up to coffee-fueled mushroom magic

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UpCycle-La boite à champignons, based in the Paris suburb of Saint-Nom-la-Breteche, recycles coffee grounds to produce oyster mushrooms. (AFP)
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The deeply rooted Parisian coffee culture means there is no shortage of the stuff — the city annually produces around 600,000 tons of grounds. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2019
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Urban farming: Parisians wake up to coffee-fueled mushroom magic

  • ‘Thirty percent of urban waste is useful biowaste and today, only five percent of this organic matter is recycled’
  • ‘Paris mushrooms’ were born from the idea of recycling organic matter

PARIS: From a container wafts the sweetly pungent odor of coffee grounds which, far from being discarded as waste, are being lucratively recycled to produce oyster mushrooms.
Grounds, which Parisian brasseries throw out daily by the ton, are perfect for the job, and a snapshot of a fast-growing urban agricultural trend.
The mulch of grounds is mixed with cardboard and wood chips and shoved into lengths of plastic with pieces of mushroom culture.
They are then hung vertically in a dark space and left to incubate for a fortnight.
“We are reproducing undergrowth subsoil conditions. The temperature and humidity are comparable,” explains Arnaud Ulrich, co-founder of UpCycle-La boite à champignons (mushroom box), based in the Paris suburb of Saint-Nom-la-Breteche.
Nestled away from the light, the spores of mushroom mycelium fungus — a key food source for many soil invertebrates and which can also help to clean polluted soil — rapidly spread as they would beneath the roots of a tree.
After incubation, the bags containing the grounds and spores, by now completely white, are transferred to a different room for “fructification.”
There, the lights are switched on and humidity reduced. Cuts are made in the bags, allowing the mushrooms to emerge.
“The mushrooms are ‘stressed’ — which makes them want to reproduce and free up their spores, leave the bags,” says Ulrich. “It simply remains to harvest them.”
Ulrich says urban agriculture is first and foremost about recycling organic waste from cities as a means of expanding the move toward a regenerative, ‘circular economy’ making more judicious use of finite resources.
“Thirty percent of urban waste is useful biowaste and today, only five percent of this organic matter is recycled,” he notes.
“We are just doing what they did in the 19th Century, but with modern methods,” he said.
At that time, “Paris mushrooms” were also born from the idea of recycling organic matter.
Market gardeners cultivated their produce in quarries on the perimeter of the capital making use of the droppings of the thousands of horses who helped to deliver vegetables to the market at Les Halles in central Paris.
Today, some 20 tons of coffee grounds are collected each month in and around Paris, the bulk from large firms’ restaurants in the west of the city. From that can be produced around two tons of oyster mushrooms.
At €15 ($17) per kilo that equates to a €30,000 ‘harvest’ and a campaign is under way to encourage more Parisian cafes to get in on the act.
“It’s a virtuous undertaking — we are producing between 20 and 30 kilos of grounds a week,” says Romain Vidal, 30 and the owner of Le Sully brasserie in Paris and a pioneer of the recycling technique.
“And our chef puts the oyster mushrooms on the menu for the brasserie’s customers,” he adds.
The chef concurs, saying he is “delighted,” describing the mushrooms as thick and juicy.
After every expresso, every cappuccino, Le Sully’s waiters bag the used grounds which a delivery biker from the coffee company whisks away so further use can be made of them.
Paris’s deep-rooted cafe culture means there is no shortage of the stuff — the city annually produces around 600,000 tons of grounds, according to UpCycle, which is helping manage similar projects in several other French towns.
After harvesting, the already recycled grounds embark upon their third lifespan, returning to the ground as compost — or ‘champost’, a play on words with champignon, French for mushroom — mixed in with mushroom strands and wood cellulose.
With their system up and running, Ulrich and co are branching out by installing “Rocket” compost machines in the heart of Paris’ La Defense business center.
The machines swallow up organic waste from restaurants such as peelings and leftover food waste, be it meat or fish, as well as grass cuttings.
The resulting scrunched up waste produces compost in record time ... which in turn will be utilized to spawn more Parisian mushrooms from September.


Adoptive mom arrested for alleged abuse of child YouTube stars

This recent undated photo released by the Pinal County Detention Center on March 21, 2019 shows Machelle Hackney after being arrested. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Adoptive mom arrested for alleged abuse of child YouTube stars

  • One alleged that “her mother would spray her and her siblings with pepper spray all over their face and body,” while another “stated they would go days without food, water,” the document said

WASHINGTON: YouTube has removed a channel that featured children playing with toy guns and whistling after police arrested their adoptive mother for allegedly starving them, locking them in closets and pepper-spraying them.
The “Fantastic Adventures” channel had more than 700,000 followers and 240 million views.
The seven adopted children told investigators of “having to participate” in the YouTube shows, a court document says.
“They stated they are disciplined in the manners above if they do not recall their lines or do not participate as they are directed to,” says the document filed in Pinal County, Arizona.
“They further stated this is one of the reasons their mom took them out of school so they can keep filming their series and they mentioned they have not been in school for years.”
The youngsters were aged between six and 15.
One alleged that “her mother would spray her and her siblings with pepper spray all over their face and body,” while another “stated they would go days without food, water,” the document said.
They were also “locked in the closet for days at a time” and two said they were sprayed or pinched in the genitals, it added.
Officers from Maricopa, outside Phoenix, said the children “appeared to be malnourished.”
Arrested last week, Machelle Hackney, 47, — known as Machelle Hobson on her channel — was charged with seven counts of child abuse, two counts of child molestation, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and seven counts of child neglect.
Police told AFP on Thursday that she remains in custody after a Tuesday hearing, but her two biological sons, also arrested, were released. Ryan Hackney and Logan Hackney, both 27, are charged with seven counts of failing to report abuse.
The adopted children also appeared in superhero costumes on the channel, which YouTube took down on Wednesday.