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

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.


Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on January 24, 2019 shows men with henna-dyed beards in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

  • It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: From shades of startling red to hues of vivid tangerine, brightly colored beards have become a fashion statement on the streets of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Facial hair of sunset tones is now the go-to look for older men wanting to take off the years, with an array of henna options available to the style-conscious.
“I have been using it on my hair for the last two months. I like it,” says Mahbubul Bashar, in his 50s, whose smile reflected his joy at his new look.
Abul Mia, a 60-year-old porter at a local vegetable market, agrees that the vibrant coloring can be transformative.
“I love it. My family says I look a lot younger and handsome,” he adds.
While henna has been used widely in the country for decades, it has reached new heights of popularity. It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard.
Orange hair — whether it’s beards, moustaches or on heads — is everywhere, thanks to the popularity of the colored dye produced by the flowering henna plant.
“Putting henna on has become a fashion choice in recent years for elder men,” confirms Didarul Dipu, head fashion journalist at Canvas magazine.
“The powder is easily found in neighborhood stores and easy to put on,” he adds.
But the quest for youth is not the only reason why more and more Dhaka barbers are adding beard and hair coloring to their services.
Top imams also increasingly use henna powder color in what experts say is a move to prove their Muslim credentials as some religious texts say the prophet Mohammed dyed his hair.
In Bangladesh most of the population of 168 million is Muslim.
“I heard from clerics that the prophet Mohammed used henna on his beard. I am just following,” says Dhaka resident Abu Taher.

Henna has long been a tradition at South Asian weddings. Brides and grooms use henna paste to trace intricate patterns on their hands for wedding parties.
It has also long been used in Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East for beards.
Previously, aficionados created the dye by crushing henna leaves to form a paste. It was messy and time-consuming but modern henna powder is far more user-friendly.
Taher, who goes by one name, believes the dye has given his beard added vigour.
“Look at this growth. Isn’t it strong?” he exclaims pointing to his chin.
“The powder turns the grey hair red but does not change the remaining black hair,” he explains.
Some believe henna powder has health benefits and, as it is natural rather than created using man-made chemicals like some dyes, does not cause any medical issues.
The new trend has also boosted barbers’ fortunes — more men feel compelled to dye their hair and to do it more often at the salons.
“In the past we hardly would get any customers for this,” recalls Shuvo Das, who works at the Mahin Hairdressers in Dhaka’s Shaheenbagh neighborhood.
“But now there are clients who come every week to get their beard dyed,” he says.
“It takes about 40 minutes to make the beard reddish and shiny. It is also cheap. A pack cost only 15 taka (four US cents),” Das explains as he massages the dye mixture — imported from India — into a customer’s beard.
According to Dhaka University sociology professor Monirul Islam Khan, the growing number of henna beards “is a sign of increasing Muslim fervor in Bangladeshi society.”
But, he adds, even those who are not strict followers do it.
He explains: “They want to look younger. Even the women are getting fond of it as it makes their hair glitter.”