There is something embarrassing in the word “consumer.”  I’ve never heard anyone saying “I’m a proud consumer.”  If we cannot be proud of consuming stuff, it may be because we tend to associate the word “consume” with notions that are opposite of what we cherish, such as produce, grow, save or even achieve. Perhaps we consider consumption as a guilty reward for some achievement, like a cold beer after a hard workout.  Although beer tastes heavenly, we know that alcohol is not good for our health.  We also know that the excitement will go away once we empty the glass.  The problem is that the joy from consumption does not last long.  Once it slips away,  we’ll have to get back to work until we can afford to have another.

Probably subconsciously we assume an ever-declining curve, when we think about the satisfaction brought about by consumption.  And it could apply to any products/services.  The expectation is the highest when we buy and start using something, but the pleasure starts diminishing as time lapses.  It’s what we call “epreciation,” in economics.  Of course there are exceptions.  Some products are so precious and never lose their value to us.  But it does not happen as often as we would wish.  Most of the belongings become stale and clutter as time goes by.

“Consumption” is, therefore, an irreversible transition from full to empty.  It is kind of depressing because we already know, even before we buy, what awaits us after consumption:  it’s this familiar hollow feeling when we lose something.  Since it’s scary to lose, and feel empty again, we try to replenish satisfaction by buying something else, or more.  This is a never-ending cycle of fill-empty-replenish-empty, which can make us desperate and stressed.

Then what if we could flip the coin and turn “consumption” to “growing?”

Instead of repeating a cycle just to always lose, what about finding products that would let you climb on a satisfaction curve?

What if you can actually “grow” something from what you purchase?

This is a mushroom growing kit provided by Back to the Roots ®.  After you purchase a kit, you will cut open one side, water, and place it by the window.  All you have to do is water it a bit on a daily basis, and wait.  And voila!  In 7-10 days, you can harvest organic mushrooms in your room!  The soil is made of organic recycled waste including corn cob and saw dust.

I stumbled upon Back to the Roots ®, in May, 2013, when its young founders, Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora presented at the Sustainable Brands ’13.  Sustainable Brands is a global conference where more than 2,000 sustainability business leaders gather.   

They were funny, smart, energetic, brave, passionate….all kinds of good traits you’d want to see in young, prospering people.

Velez and Arora were students at UC Berkeley, and that’s how they met and started this “weird” (per Velez) mushroom business.  In one class, the professor randomly mentioned that it would be possible to grow mushrooms using spent coffee.  Velez and Arora jumped on the idea and started testing it in their fraternity dorm by gathering information on Google.  They knew nothing about mushrooms. They knew nothing about agriculture or sustainability.   But it did not scare them or stop them.  They were purely excited about the idea to harvest good things on something considered to be waste. They were determined to make it work.

After much trial and error, their start-up became a stable business with multiple product lines.  They now sell mushroom growing kits, tomato growing kits, water garden (a complete closed loop aquaponics system where plants grow on fish poop), and some food lines such as stoneground flakes.

What’s very unique about Back to the Roots goes beyond their ability to come up with an innovative “business model,” and attract venture capital to grow.  It is their passion and their eagerness to tell people, “Hey we’ve found something really cool!  And it works!  You should join our excitement!”  When you buy into their passion, someone else’s business suddenly becomes very personal to you.

Just like alluding for your favorite sport team, you can allude for a start-up, if their passion resonates with you.  That’s probably the momentum behind the  crowdfunding movement – we want to see other people grow, and want to see that we collectively can make our dreams come true.

When it happens, a company is not someone who sells stuff for you to “consume.” It is a unique source of pleasure, and a sense of accomplishment.

We don’t earn money just to consume.  We are far better than just consuming.  Instead of drowning in a swamp of buy-consume-feel-spent cycle, and feeling stressed, we can turn consumption into growing. 

And that’s where we can feel a much deeper satisfaction and experience the sense of accomplishment.