#004 How a mushroom feeds us, the forest and the economy

This story is about an exotic mushroom that lives in the mountains of Catalunya. Well, actually this is a story about the business he is in and how this fungi is closing the loops for an hotel, chefs, social forestry, composting and an EU Life project, while creating jobs and a healthy and safe nature area. Tomas Viguurs, co-founder of Myco Life S.L invited us for an underground tour around the area and showed us how he is part and initiator of this incredible ecosystem.

  • The basement of eco-hotel L’Avenc de Tavertet provides excellent conditions. Not for guests (who wants to stay in a humid underground room without windows?)… but who just love these conditions? Right funghi!

  • Mycelio grows delicious exotic mushrooms in the basement, under perfect conditions since not much energy is needed for cooling or heating to create the perfect climate.

  • The mushrooms grow on a substrate of decomposing wood. And we are surrounded by it here in the beautiful nature area of Tavertet.

  • Mushrooms recycle nutrients from the decomposing wood into edible products. 

  • The leftover substrate can either go back into the forest as a fertilizer, keeping the it healthy. Or turned into compost for others to use.

  • Since the dead wood in the forest now is a valuable resource for mushroom substrate, it’s worth creating jobs for collecting it. It is positively contributing to the local economy while keeping the forest healthy and less susceptible to fires. 

  • Mushrooms provide many ways for new business development. The texture is used to produce furniture, the substance for new medication and so on.

Interview

Let us take you to the mountains of Catalunya, to a beautiful area, and to the basement of the incredibly situated eco- hotel L’Avenc de Tavertet. Overlooking the hills of the pristine nature area (as we havent seen anywhere else in Europe) we talk mushrooms with Thomas Viguurs. He is one of the founders of Mycelio and is committed to close the loop, by creating regenerative solutions and taking the circular opportunities these fungi provide in.

Tomas, how did you end up here in the basement?

“I was looking for a working space to grow and harvest my mushrooms when I was told about the beautiful Eco Hotel ‘L’Avenc de Tavertet’, overlooking the hills and mountains of a pristine nature area. They decided to build an underground parking area, to keep the scenery as pure as possible. Due to construction demands, the basement ended up way too spacious for cars alone. And it was not possible to create rooms; Nobody wants to sleep in the basement of a hotel! So this space hadn’t been used and they didn’t know what to do with it. I presented my ideas to the family who had bought the ruin of this old mansion and rebuild it with a strong vision to create responsible and sustainable tourism.  We were a perfect fit, so we decided to start this business together. I grow, harvest and develop the exotic mushrooms, that we sell to other restaurants.”

What does Circular Economy mean to Mycelio?

“Circular Economy for us means recycling the nutrients that originate from the woods, getting as much value out of it as possible in the mushrooms. The problem with forests in Catalunya is that there is not enough value created out of the woods, which leads to mismanagement of the area and which can create dangerous situations regarding fires. Giving back value to the woods and creating as many products out of it during the life cycle.” 

What other partners do you collaborate with within the ecosystem?

  • Social Forestry is an organization active in forestry. They mainly work with young people from the city and refugees who are being trained in forestry and maintenance of the forest. They collect the wood in the area around the hotel, which we use for the substrate the mushrooms grow on.
  • Many restaurants in the area are buying the exclusive mushrooms. For example Restaurante Faves Comptades.
  • With the Organic Cattle Farm we are exploring how to create a partly meat and partly plant-based hamburger, creating extra business for both of us.
  • Volterra Ecosystems helps us to find a solution for the spent substrate by creating added value compost, incorporating cow dung from the farm and biochar produced from leftovers from the woods.
  • Of course an imporant player in this ecosystem is the forest itself. A part of the substrate is returned to improve the soils health.
  • The rest of the exotic mushrooms is being sold business to business to use, dry and sell.

Circular Quote
of the day:

This project creates multiple values, improving sustainability of the individual processes and creating circular principles between partners in the eco-system.

Sven Kallen
Volterra Ecosystems

What is Mycelio’s Business Model?

  1. We are growing gourmet mushrooms on substrates and are selling them to local restaurants and shops;
  2. The plans are to make other products with longer shelf life: dried products or conserved meals for restaurants and later consumers.
  3. With regards to new business development we are experimenting with a partially vegetarian hamburger consisting of mushrooms and meat. In Spain consumers are not as vega-ready, meat is still an important aspect of the culture. So to reduce the carbon footprint of the indrusty while growing consumer demand, transition products are a market that would be viable here.

Is circularity creating competitive advantages for your business?

Talking about wild mushrooms, the seasonal collection is very very popular! People go out to pick, not realizing how this imbalances the forest ecosystem. We provide sustainable alternatives all year long. Using the resources of the forest as a substrate, but not taking the mushrooms out of the forest leaves the ecosystem intact.

And will your customers, the restaurants pick your product over another? 

Yes! They choose us for the high quality products we make; our mushrooms are unique, fresh and have a very good taste. And they are also organic certified which is a pre. But a circular business… I’m not sure how that is important for the chefs. The taste is the most important! We definitely see that chefs are more conscious, and buy local (which makes it also fresher).

What is your main barrier?

“Financial investments to get started, the collaboration, sharing knowledge… running and creating a circular business is something you can’t do on your own.”

“We are lucky to have found other entrepreneurs and partners that share the same mindset. It is very important to create a reliable network if you want to improve your quality and sustainability and are aiming for the development of all parts of the ecosystem.”

What would you do with €1.000 budget to promote or stimulate the circular ecosystem?

“We would invite a bunch of influencers and invite them here at the hotel, let them taste the recipes with the mushrooms and show them our business and purpose. It is very important that people get to know our products, in the region and maybe a bit further. So we are able to improve our products and grow our market segments.”

What would your message to other entrepreneurs be?

“The circular model is something we could all benefit from, economically and personally. And I also see it as our responsibility to go for it. In the case of Mycelio it turned out the circular solution to a circularity gap in the cycle was just around the corner; right in the woods of Catalunya. And the solution works multiple ways; the forestry benefits from the labor we provide the workers, and we benefit from the substrate we can extract.”

Which current product or project do you take the most pride in?

The fact that we have been accepted as Mycelio into the Life MycoRestore project is a great honor. That really boosted our business, while we just started. It provides us financial support to start our business and enables bringing all parties together which is very valuable. 

It enables us

  • to work with local resources to make our own substrate
  • to work with partners like Social Forest and Volterra Ecosystems and contribute to the local economy here
  • to develop new products that add value to the forest so we will contribute to the maintenance and health of the soils of the forest

What is your vision for the future?

At the moment we are buying the substrate from a Dutch Company. Since the wood is collected far away and the substrate is transported to Spain leaving a big carbon footprint we are not very fond of.  To solve this, we joined the EU- LIFE project called MycoRestore. It  allows us to start development and production of our own substrate using local resources and controlling the process. In the more social and economical context, as the definition of circular economy in Spain involves social components more often than in The Netherlands this had a big advantage too: we will need more local labour and create jobs, contributing to the local community and economy that can use a boost. 

The LIFE program is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action created in 1992. The current funding period 2014-2020 has a budget of €3.4 billion. MycoRestore Project was selected under the Climate Adaptation section of the Life program.

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The use of the biochar is extremely valuable for the ecosystem in Tavertet. In several steps, we take you through the process.

Mycelio and the MycoRestore Project are part of an ecosystem.

One of their partners is Hotel L’Avenc de Tavertet. The family restored and renovated the old building and created an eco-hotel. Their energy comes from their own windmill and they did everything in their power to create a fully sustainable and circular hotel that fits in the area. Especially for small businesses like Mycelio it is very important to collaborate actively within an ecosystem of partners, that all take a part in the responsibilities and tasks. What makes this special is that they don’t even label themselves as being circular. But we haven’t met many other projects that are as circular as this is.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. We look forward to the next steps of this project!

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