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Circular Innovators: A Chat with Steven Keulemans, Fungi Factory

By Tess Holmgren

How we produce food and handle waste are important topics of today, and Utrecht-based enterprise Fungi Factory is tackling both issues by using spent coffee grounds to grow oyster mushrooms.

Fungi Factory co-founder Steven Keulemans will lead a workshop at the Green Student Bootcamp Challenge’s session in Utrecht on Friday 17 May, where participants will learn about mycelium and Fungi Factory’s circular solutions for growing mushrooms with waste.

In advance of this session, I connected with Steven to find out what students can expect from his workshop and what he feels is important to have a healthy life in the city.

Please tell us about your organisation, its inspiration and goals.

We were originally inspired by the book ‘The Blue Economy’ by Gunter Pauli, who really inspired people to look at things differently by showing how we can learn from the natural world’s clever ways of handling challenges. One thing he mentions is using coffee waste to grow oyster mushrooms and after chatting to my co-founders Martijn and Erik, we thought that Utrecht needed an initiative like this. So that’s how we started growing oyster mushrooms on coffee waste. Our goal is to use as much coffee waste and grow as many oyster mushrooms as possible. We want to inspire people and companies to look differently at waste, and for waste in Utrecht to be used to make new products.

Without revealing too much about what’s in store, what can we expect from your participation in this year’s Green Student Bootcamp Challenge?

We will be talking a bit about the role of mycelium in nature and how we use mycelium in our business model. We also want to explain how our business model is inspired by the interactions we see in nature, and we want to show everyone how to grow their own oyster mushrooms at home, which is easier than it sounds!

What do you hope participating students will take away from the experience?

We want to inspire students that a lot of good things are happening in businesses at the moment, not only in theory but also in practice – that there are things actually being done that make a difference. We hope to inspire students to see that they can really implement the things they learn during their studies, hopefully some of them will do so by starting their own sustainable business around something they like. Which will inspire others, and themselves, to start making a difference in the world.

How do you see our relationship with nature and with our environment?

That’s a broad question. If by ‘our’ you mean mankind’s then I think we are fitting in less and less. One of the main problems for the way humans look at nature at the moment is that we think we can control nature. We think of nature as our commodity which we can do with as we please, and we are also not looking at the long-term relationship with nature because most of us want to make a short-term profit. There could be a reason for this, for instance to make money to raise our children well but still, even in this situation we are only talking about one generation. In short, I think we are being short-sighted in how we make use of the natural world.

Has your work and/or research changed the way you lead your life? If so, how?

Actually, the way I look at the world and lead my life is the reason I changed my job.  After 12 years working in a bank, I thought I wanted to do something different and I am now a mushroom farmer! It was a slow process and there were a few moments during my twelve-year career where I thought I needed a change and it didn’t happen for one reason or another. After a reshuffling at work I thought it was a good opportunity to force myself to make the change.

What does healthy urban living mean to you?

I think healthy urban living means to be respectful to nature. By that I mean not to look at it as a commodity with which we can do as we please and to recognise that everything in nature serves a purpose. It’s especially important to do so in an urban environment because it isn’t inherently a healthy place. If we take care to this by, for instance, not using too much water, being wise in our energy consumption, or eating healthy I think we can contribute to a liveable city. To me it also means to inspire others and the next generation to take care of themselves and their environment by giving a good example.

An Inspirational Green Tour of the Netherlands!

Netherlands Tour 2019

This year’s Green Student Bootcamp Challenge is going nationwide, as participants set off on an inspirational tour of the Netherlands in May and June.

This is the 4th year of our experiential learning programme for higher education students in the Netherlands. We are both delighted and proud that our graduates from previous years are helping to organise this year’s programme and will lead some of our workshops!

On Friday afternoons, 14.00 – 17.30, in May and June, sessions will take place at diverse locations in the Netherlands in partnership with educational organisations, experts, entrepreneurs and innovators all working to create solutions for a healthier and greener world.

Inspiration from Nature

The Bootcamp Challenge brings students from diverse universities in the Netherlands together for one semester to learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices in balance with the natural world. Our immersive green learning experience takes a holistic approach to student health and wellbeing, as students are encouraged to relax in nature, feel connected to the natural world by acquiring both knowledge and experience, and reignite the joy and wonder of the natural world that we all shared when children.

A Rich Learning Experience

Just as in nature, we see that increased diversity in the group of participants leads to a richer learning experience for the group as a whole. We invite students from all study backgrounds to take part, and no prior knowledge of the course content required. Students learn from experts, entrepreneurs and each other as debate and sharing knowledge and experience is actively encouraged throughout.

Applied Learning 

We introduce students to diverse themes with a focus on exploring the links between our health and wellbeing, with that of our environment and our world. Students are given weekly challenges to be completed at home or as a group, and based on knowledge from previous sessions. In this way, students are asked to apply knowledge in a practical sense immediately. Students share their learning experiences in an online forum, so they also can learn directly from each other.

Partners 2019

This year sessions will take place in Groningen, Delft, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Amsterdam, where we will welcome new partners and meet some amazing partners from previous programmes. We’ll learn about the interconnectivity in nature from IVN ,  Tiny Forest and Fungi Factory, hear from De Stadsgroenteboer about the role of CSAs in urban food production and how to cook healthy plant-based meals, learn of innovative solutions inspired by nature from Biomimicry Nederland and TU Delft, about trees and their role in a healthy city from City of Amsterdam ecologists, and visualise the healthy city of the future with tactical urban planning experts Hannah Wright and Humankind.  Other partners include Green Office Groningen, Green Office Utrecht, Green Office Delft, De DakAkker, Studio Tjeerd van Veenhoven, Commonland, and Duurzame Student.

A big thank you to LemonAid and ChariTea for sponsoring the programme!

Monday 29 April

There are have limited spaces available, and a short application is required. Applications are to be received by Monday 29 April. To request an application, please email us: gsbc@greenlivinglab.org