Hello! We are The Urban Mushroom Company (‘UMC’), a student-led social enterprise based in the heart of Exeter. Our team is made up of 9 dedicated students, led this year by Parco, Gabriella and Lucy, all volunteering their time alongside their degrees.
In the UK, 95 million cups of coffee are consumed per day, but 99% of the coffee beans used go to landfill, leading to the production of half a million tonnes of coffee waste each year, along with potent methane gases. UMC started up in 2018 to help tackle this often-overlooked problem.
Based in Princesshay, we collect used coffee grounds from local cafes and upcycle these into a substrate to grow oyster mushrooms. Along with producing tasty, nutritious mushrooms which both have zero food miles and are organically grown, the mushrooms alter the chemical composition of the coffee grounds. This means that after the mushrooms have been grown, the coffee grounds can be safely composted, and will release CO2 rather than methane.
The mushrooms we grow are either sold to individuals and businesses as ‘grow-at-home’ kits or as dried mushroom packets. We aim to be as sustainable as possible, so we minimise our carbon footprint by collecting our coffee grounds by hand, using minimal biodegradable packaging and locally composting any organic waste generated.
We achieved our first sales of mushroom grow kits over December 2020, despite difficulties with our production process and sourcing used coffee grounds caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team worked phenomenally hard to sort out packaging, information leaflets, online selling platforms and of course preparing the mushroom blocks – even though, as students, we faced end-of-term deadlines and uncertainties surrounding Christmas travel.
As a result, we have collected and upcycled 98kg of waste coffee grounds since September 2020 from cafes in Exeter. This prevents the waste from going to landfill and has the equivalent impact of heating a household for 5 months.
The farm’s premises in the heart of Exeter has enabled us to foster links with local cafes, both independent and chain franchises. Other small businesses have been very welcoming too and we recently partnered with the social enterprise network ESSENCE.
The friendly, welcoming atmosphere has been especially rewarding because our team members come from all over the world, and so they have been able to get a different insight into Exeter’s community spirit outside of the University.
Moving forward, our focus will be on generating a stable supply of mushrooms each month, and from there increasing our brand visibility in Exeter. We also want to offer voluntary work experience locally and ensure we can equip our volunteers who useful transferable skills.
Get in touch
If you’re interested in getting involved or simply want to chat more about mushrooms, please do get in touch.
As we begin to focus more on our social impact it would be particularly great to hear from any cafe owners or other small businesses about your recruitment processes. This could really help us build a more informed picture of our volunteering offer. We’d also love to hear from anyone who is interested in buying or stocking our mushroom products, or who wants to donate waste coffee grounds.
Facebook: The Urban Mushroom Company