Growing Mushrooms From Food Waste

Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll look at a farm in Queens that grows mushrooms for restaurants in food waste collected from those same restaurants. We’ll also get details on Columbia University’s decision to cancel its universitywide commencement ceremony.

Credit…Earl Wilson/The New York Times

“This is the farm,” Sierra Alea said.

It didn’t look like one. There wasn’t a tractor in sight. There were no fields with asparagus, raspberries or strawberries in the 3,500-square-foot room, deep in an industrial building across from an automobile junkyard in Queens.

But it is a farm — an indoor one that grows mushrooms for restaurants in Manhattan.

It grows them in food waste collected from those same restaurants.

“This is how to eliminate food waste from landfills,” Alea said. That’s the idea behind Afterlife Ag, the mushroom-growing startup of which she is a co-founder.

Food waste that rots in a landfill generates methane gas, second only to carbon dioxide as a factor in climate warming. Winson Wong, another co-founder of Afterlife Ag, said that 80 to 85 percent of what is thrown away in a restaurant is “prep waste, ” material like egg shells, lemon wedges and tomato peels — “things people never eat.” ReFED, a nonprofit that focuses on reducing food waste, said that the food service industry sent 13 million tons of waste to landfills in 2022, the most recent year for which it has posted figures.

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