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Meet the urban farmer sprouting mushrooms from coffee waste in Portugal

Natan Jacquemin established Nam Mushrooms on the principles of circular economy and sustainable urban farming
Natan Jacquemin established Nam Mushrooms on the principles of circular economy and sustainable urban farming Copyright Michael Rupp
Copyright Michael Rupp
By Sharifah Fadhilah AlshahabMichael Rupp
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In partnership with Media City, Qatar. It wasn't a love for coffee or mushrooms that motivated Natan Jacquemin to become an urban farmer; rather, it was the care and concern for the environment.

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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

The humble mushroom has undergone a dramatic shift of late, from first being considered an exotic food ingredient to being used in medicine. In recent years, they have become mainstream due to their nutritional value. Because mushrooms are easy to grow, they are also considered environmentally sustainable. Nitrogen, protein, fats, lignin, starch, and sugar are essential nutrients needed to grow mushrooms, which makes nutrient-rich coffee grounds an ideal breeding environment.

When Natan Jacquemin learned this, he got straight to work. "I just started collecting coffee waste in the city centre of Lisbon," Natan tells SCENES.

Michael Rupp
Mushrooms are touted for the nutritional benefits, and increasingly for their positive environmental impactMichael Rupp

Around six months later, he found the first crop of mushrooms sprouting. Since then, the world has been his oyster, or in this case, his oyster mushroom.

"I decided it was time to try to scale up the idea and try to have more impact," Natan says.

Scaling up

In 2018, Natan founded Nam Mushroom, an urban farming project cultivating edible fungus. He quickly ramped up efforts to expand his business by contacting restaurants to sell mushrooms and coffee shops to collect coffee waste.

Before long, Natan landed a partnership with Portugal's largest coffee distributor Delta Cafés. As part of their daily routine, they visit various locations across the city to refill and clean their coffee vending machines. They collect the coffee waste and hand it over to Nam Mushroom during this process.

Michael Rupp
While it is often regarded as waste and discarded, coffee residue is rich in nutrients that are essential for growing mushrooms.Michael Rupp

"We work exclusively with these vending machines because they guarantee that the coffee waste is fresh and that no one touches it. So, the idea is to have the best raw material for our mushrooms," says Pedro Castro, director of Delta Ventures, the company's investment arm.

Nam Mushrooms receives 100 kilograms of coffee waste daily from Delta Cafés. Natan says converting this into mushrooms is an easy process on his farm.

"We do a little treatment. Then, we incubate the bags for two to three weeks inside the incubation room, where we mimic the conditions of nature," Natan explains.

Being local

Once harvested, the mushrooms are sold to partner restaurants within 15 kilometres of Natan's farm.

"The whole idea is to be as local as possible and to have a more positive ecological impact," explained Natan.

According to research published in the Science Journal, Nature, importing produce worldwide accounts for three gigatonnes of carbon emissions. The ecological footprint of transporting foods depends on factors such as transportation mode, whether the food requires a temperature-controlled environment, and the distance travelled.

Michael Rupp
Treated coffee waste is incubated in a room that mimics the natural environment for two to three weeksMichael Rupp

The study simulated a situation where food was supplied entirely and consumed locally. The results predicted that emissions would reduce by 0.27 gigatonnes and 0.11 gigatonnes, respectively.

While it would be hard to replicate the same model in the real world, reducing food mileage goes a long way.

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Reconciling economy and ecology

Eager to drive change, Natan aimed to become a social entrepreneur and an urban farmer, positively impacting the environment and society while earning an income.

"I wanted to find a way to reconcile economy and ecology, to take, to make, and then try to reuse that as much as possible. Waste that we can create more value out of is not wasted," Natan says.

Michael Rupp
Nam Mushrooms repurposes waste as material in every step of production to maximise sustainabilityMichael Rupp

To close the circle, Natan recycles the mushroom by-products and offers them to the Municipality of Lisbon. They then use it as fertiliser for gardens inside the city.

"That's how we close the loop," Natan explains. Natan proudly embodies his passion for the circular economy at Nam Mushrooms. The economic system is based on the reusing and regeneration of products in a sustainable way.

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An inspiration

"Nam is an inspiration for us internally to develop this model," Pedro Castro says. He believes the circular economy is the forthcoming economic model of the future.

"I really believe the biggest impact that we have is to educate people about the world of mushrooms, how we can change our mind about what waste really is, about the world of sustainability and circular economy," he says.

Michael Rupp
When Natan set up Nam Mushrooms, he did not expect the ripple effects it would have on society.Michael Rupp

Natan is ecstatic to see the ripple effect his business has on society. Besides its environmental impact, Nam Mushroom is also committed to hiring differently-abled people to help them integrate better into society.

Natan harbours plans to expand his company over the next year and replicate the business model in other cities in Lisbon and abroad.

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