LoGROcal: Sustainability with Pizza, Beer and Coffee

25 Aug, 2013

by Bruce E. Boyers

Would you believe that the waste from beer and coffee can be used to sustainably grow veggie pizza toppings? This rather unique model—and its company, cleverly called LoGROcal—is the brainchild of Ryan Sansbury and his childhood-friend-turned-business-partner, Jeremy Bastian.

“We’re the sustainable cornerstone entity out here,” Jeremy told Organic Connections. “We share the property right now with Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, which is a fantastic brick-oven pizza. I really can’t eat pizza anywhere else, it’s so good. Then we also have Jester King Brewery close by, which is a great farmhouse beer producer.” The spent grains from the brewery are used to grow ingredients for the pizza.

The Connections

So, how did such a connection come to be made? It began when Texas native Ryan moved from San Antonio, where he’d gone to college, to the progressive leading-edge city of Austin.

“After I arrived in Austin, I became really passionate about the local food scene and organic systems,” Ryan said. “Initially I read some books by Paul Stamets, who is well known in the mushroom cultivation field, and got excited about the idea of growing food from waste. I obtained oyster mushroom cultures and spawn [a white fibrous matter that forms the matrix from which mushrooms grow] from various commercial cultivators, then went to local coffee shops and picked up some coffee grounds and did a few home tests. These went remarkably well; I grew several great big clusters right on the kitchen counter. I was like, ‘I can do this!’ A buddy of mine that I’ve known since childhood, Jeremy Bastian, was in Houston at the time and I got him to come up to Austin with me. We founded LoGROcal and we were on fire for this idea. We just started growing as much as we could and trying to make connections everywhere we could.”

Stanley’s Pizza, a local sustainably minded pizza company, came across the LoGROcal website and contacted them. “We set up a meeting and they told us what they needed,” Ryan continued. “They wanted to have a number of vegetable growers and mushroom producers out on their property. They had an old structure that was in a state of disrepair, and told us they’d give us a deal if we came out here, renovated the structure and used that as the launching pad for our business.” The duo initiated a Kickstarter campaign to help them fund the renovations, and LoGROcal was off and running.

The other remaining piece was the beer. Having researched all about growing mushrooms from organic waste, Ryan and Jeremy partnered up with local brewery Jester King. “We’re able to take their spent beer grains after a batch of beer is made,” Ryan related. “They were already giving some of them to local farmers for compost, but a lot of them ended up being thrown away because they get rank pretty quickly and start smelling horrible, and you don’t want that around. So what we do is, within a day or two of when they take them out, we go pick them up and bring them back to our farm. We also pick up coffee grounds from local coffee shops, and we mix those two together and that is our mixture to grow the mushrooms.”

But wait; there’s more. “What’s also really exciting is that this is not where it ends,” said Ryan. “Once we harvest the mushrooms and give them to Stanley’s Pizza, we actually use our leftover mushroom compost as organic fertilizer to grow all the vegetable needs of the pizza place as well, including cherry tomatoes, arugula and a wide variety of other things. So we can take waste and create all this value and healthy food from it; then our output is actually an input for another system. We think that’s a really exciting model.”

For Consumers Too

Because of Ryan and Jeremy’s intense interest in local agriculture, they want to get everyone involved. “We have a great grow-at-home mushroom kit, which will be available from our website in the next few weeks,” Ryan reported. “We initially came up with the idea as rewards in our Kickstarter campaign, but we’ll be offering them to everyone. We want people to be able to grow healthy, delicious organic food as locally as possible, and it doesn’t get much more local than your kitchen counter.”

LoGROcal is also offering a grow-at-home hydroponic wheatgrass kit, and is developing a general hydroponic kit that will allow people to grow herbs, vegetables and any other ingredients they like.

For the Future

Of course, Ryan is looking toward replicating his unique business model elsewhere. “We could set up a system where we share properties with breweries in different cities across the US, and then establish farms where we take all their grains and grow as many mushrooms as we can for that local community,” Ryan concluded. “That’s something that we’re really looking into. Then maybe even in third-world countries we could design a system to just be put in place so that the local community could take all their organic waste and use it to grow their own food.

“That’s the whole idea. We want people to grow as much healthy, organic food as they can, as locally as possible.”

For more information, please visit www.logrocal.com.

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