MUSHROOM CITY. Social Enterprise (MCSE) Toronto

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MUSHROOM CITY. Social Enterprise (MCSE) Toronto, is proposed as a social enterprise. Its purpose is to alleviate hunger, reduce Toronto’s CO2 emissions and organic waste. This would be accomplished by using discarded coffee grounds from local coffee shops in the city as feedstock for the production of organic Oyster Mushrooms.

Contestant organization: 
MUSHROOM CITY. Social Enterprise (MCSE) Toronto
Describe your venture: 

MUSHROOM CITY. Social Enterprise (MCSE) Toronto, is proposed as a social enterprise. Its purpose is to alleviate hunger, reduce Toronto’s CO2 emissions and organic waste. This would be accomplished by using discarded coffee grounds from local coffee shops in the city as feedstock for the production of organic Oyster Mushrooms.

This Social Enterprise will provide a portion of the product and its profits to feed those in need for food in the city of Toronto. At the same time, it will create green jobs and contribute to reduce pollution in the city by implementing a zero carbon emissions production and transport process. It will close the coffee life cycle, reduce the amount of organic waste produced by coffee shops in the city and help other industries in the green sector by using their products and services.

Currently this social enterprise is operating as a pilot project thanks to the generous support of The Stop Community Food Centre and Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park, who have lend part of their greenhouse space towards this project. Samples of coffee grounds are collected from three local coffee shops (The Green Grind, Tim Hortons and Starbucks) to grow the mushrooms for the pilot project.



  • The enterprise will use a zero carbon emissions production and transport process.
  • The project will reduce the amount of organic waste produced in the city.
  • The project will reduce air, water and soil pollution.
  • The process byproduct is a soil amendment material that can be used to increase soil quality.
  • The project will close the coffee life cycle and directly produce a nutritious organic food.
  • The project will contribute to organic and sustainable agriculture in Toronto.
  • The project will increase awareness regarding food security.


  • A portion of the product and the profits will be destined to feed the poor.
  • The project will provide students of the YMCA Culinary Skills program with free, in-house, nutritious, organically grown Oyster Mushrooms.
  • It will contribute to teach The Stop volunteers, YMCA students and the general public about environmental issues, food security and sustainable organic farming without the need to leave the city.
  • It will benefit to the health and well being of Toronto’s residents as a consequence of eating healthier, more nutritious and better quality food.


Partners and contributors:

  • The project will help participant coffee shops achieve their environmental and corporate social responsibility goals, improving their image as environmental and socially responsible business.
  • The project will also support “The Stop Community Food Centre” efforts to increase access to healthy food.
  • The project will support the YMCA Hospitality training program and complement the YMCA contributions to the environment and its leadership on environmental initiatives.

The following diagram summarize the working model of this social enterprise

(please see first picture or click here


Emissions reduction potential: 

This social enterprise will help reduce urban emissions in the following ways:

Direct Reductions


  • Using transportation methods with no CO2 emissions such as electric vehicles. Currently, bicycles have been used to achieve this purpose.
  • Processing facilities will be located within city limits, minimizing the transportation distance of the feedstock, the product and byproducts. The two facilities currently being used for the pilot project are located close to downtown Toronto.
  • Emissions will be measured and verified through an emission monitoring plan.



  • The greenhouse and all processing and administrative facilities will strive to achieve the highest LEED standard possible (Platinum). 
  • The greenhouse and administrative facilities will be powered by renewable energy, using its own solar panels and/or buying the energy from Bullfrog Power. Currently, the Friends of the Bellwood’s Park greenhouse offsets part of its emissions using solar panels.
  • The use of biodegradable cleaning agents will be the norm, not the option.
  • The 3R’s will be implemented in all operations (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).
  • The facility will strive to minimize its water consumption. Rainfall will be collected and used.
  • The effluent generated by the operation will be treated and whenever possible reused before reaching the sewage system.
  • Emissions will be measured and verified through an emission monitoring plan.


Potential reductions:

  • Setting an example for the transportation and solid waste management sectors, the project will stimulate the use of low carbon emission vehicles.
  • The public will also be encouraged to use renewable energy and low emission vehicles.
  • By showing its viability and profitability, it is expected that competitors will arise with similar emissions reductions schemes. 
  • Education and outreach components of the enterprise will allow the community to participate and become more knowledgeable and aware of the environmental best practices. This, in turn will encourage people to include such practices in their daily lives.

The enterprise will support other green initiatives by using their services and products.    

The team: 

Currently the team is composed by the project proponent, and two collaborator organizations.

Gelman Cortes, BEnvEng, MSEM (Project Proponent)

            During the last year of completing his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, Gelman worked with the National Business Association in Bogotá, Colombia, coordinating their environmental committee and planning an Environmental Management System. A few months later, he was awarded an internship in Canada to work with the Canadian International Development Agency. Later, he pursued an additional internship with an environmental NGO in Calgary, AB where he was promoted and hired as Interim Manager of Special Projects.

            After working for the government and non-profit sectors, Gelman decided to broaden his knowledge by pursuing a Master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management at the University of Saskatchewan. His Master’s and Bachelor’s degree included studies on issues such as Environmental Management Systems, Solid Waste Management, Water, Air Pollution, Micro Biology, Land Reclamation and Remediation, Legal Issues and the Environment, Strategic Environmental Planning and Project Management, Occupational Health and Safety, and many other areas.

            His passion for environmental work has taking him to volunteer for the Environmental Coordinator of the YMCA of Greater Toronto and the Central YMCA Green Team. His work with the YMCA involves projects ranging from waste management to developing a web site that will facilitate the startup of new green teams, allowing for projects collaboration and improving communication among the Green teams of the GTA.

            Currently, Gelman is working to launch MUSHROOM CITY Social Enterprise (MCSE) Toronto.   


The Stop Community Food Centre (Collaborator):

The Stop currently makes available part of its greenhouse space for the mushroom cultivation. Its staff has also encouraged multiple Stop volunteers to participate in the project helping planting the mushroom mycelia.

The following information, extracted from the organization webpage “” describes this collaborator.


The Stop strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds community and challenges inequality.

What We Do

The Stop has two locations: at our main office at 1884 Davenport Road we provide frontline services to our community, including a drop-in, food bank, perinatal program, community action program, bake ovens and markets, community cooking, community advocacy, sustainable food systems education and urban agriculture. The Stop’s Green Barn, located in the Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie Street, is a sustainable food production and education centre which houses a state-of-the-art greenhouse, food systems education programs, a sheltered garden, our Global Roots Garden, community bake oven and compost demonstration centre.


We believe that healthy food is a basic human right. We recognize that the ability to access healthy food is often related to multiple issues and not just a result of low income. At The Stop, we’ve taken a holistic approach to achieve real change in our community’s access to healthy food.

We strive to meet basic food needs and, at the same time, foster opportunities for community members to build mutual support networks, connect to resources and find their voices on the underlying causes of hunger and poverty.

A key tenet of The Stop's approach is that community members must be involved in making decisions about how our organization operates. When program participants are involved -- as front-line volunteers, program advisory committee members, gardeners or cooks -- the stigma associated with receiving free food is often diminished or erased. While our food access programming helps confront the issue of hunger, it also creates opportunities for community members to forge their own responses to hunger. We believe this approach will end the way charity divides us as a society into the powerful and the powerless, the self-sufficient and the shamed. At The Stop, we are creating a new model to fight poverty and hunger: a community food centre.


Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park (Collaborator):

This volunteer group operates a greenhouse as an educational and community resource in the Bellwoods Park. The group currently lends part of the space in the greenhouse for the mushrooms cultivation. This greenhouse offsets part of the energy consumption through solar panels, installed in the roof of the adjacent community center.

The following information, extracted from the organization website webpage “” describes this collaborator.

Who are we?

Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park is a volunteer group that works together to improve the green space, cultural and recreational activities of Trinity Bellwoods Park.   Its volunteer members have founded and operate a weekly summer farmers market, coordinate an Adopt-A-Tree program to water and nurture the new planted saplings in the park, created and operate a greenhouse as an educational and community resource, present bulb and shrub planting events in collaboration with Parks & Recreation and respond to community issues that affect the park.  Since 2001, Friends of Trinity Bellwoods has been recognized by Parks & Rec and by our councilor as the vehicle of community consultation for the park.  We are a diverse group who are willing to share new ideas, respect other points of view, and participate in a collaborative process to create a vibrant community park.

What's our mission?

We hope to ensure that the park will be a healthy public green space for decades to come. Toronto's parks are often referred to as the "lungs" of our city. Besides providing a welcome refuge from the hurly burly of city life, park trees and public greens help clean our air of pollutants. Historically designated as an arboretum, Trinity Bellwoods, contains some of the oldest and most unique trees in Toronto. We want to take care of the existing natural environment and gradually improve it over time.

We believe that a lively, safe community is created through many small networks of friendships. The park allows people from all walks of life to spontaneously cross paths and strike up a conversation. In order to bring people together, we want to support a wide variety of park activities. Because we have an intimate understanding of park needs, we want to share our vision with Parks, Forestry and Recreation and our Councillor.

Seeking collaborators: 
Potential collaborators should contact : 
Gelman Cortes at
How will you ensure your project is self supporting within five years?: 
  • By selling the highest quality locally grown organic mushrooms, and striving for maximum customer satisfaction, this social enterprise will secure a solid customer base.
  • By constantly looking to expand its customer base within the local farmers market, local stores, restaurants, catering houses, cooking schools and major food chains, while tackling other less conventional markets such as internet sales.  
  • The feedstock for the mushroom production will be secured by constantly looking for new partners to supply the coffee grounds to produce the mushrooms. This will include independent business owners, as well as coffee shops such as Tim Hortons, Second Cup and Starbucks, to mention only a few.
  • Listening to our customers, constant innovation and investigation to improve the product and the process, maximize efficiency of the process with minimum environmental impacts.
  • By constantly looking for new sources of financing, partnerships and investors.
How did you hear about ClimateSpark?: 
Through a friend


tdkdibbs's picture

The use of zero carbon emission in the transportation process.

oilnomore's picture

This is no doubt a great social project. Anything that uses waste for better use manifests itself for the all the support it deserves. Scout other waste materials for your business.

How could this proposal be improved?: 

Like biochar and compost from city's tree waste wood chips can be nutrient base for your mushrooms. I can strongly recommend you to use soymilk by-product call "okara" in Japanese. Call Harry if you have question 416-617-0899 or email

karthik26's picture

Main problem is due to the industries which emit different gases that leads to global warming....

davidcortes's picture

closing the coffee life cycle and providing new alternatives for urban agriculture is just great.

cheers from Bremen, Germany

How could this proposal be improved?: 

Make it grow

slyder's picture

There is a lot of potential in this waste product.

How could this proposal be improved?: 

How do you plan on getting companies involved? "Doing the right thing" is unfortunately not enough in many cases. Do you have a branding or sponsorship strategy in the works to encourage partnerships? Getting a big name like Tim's or Starbucks on board at a city-wide franchise level would be great. 

gelmanc's picture

Thank you for your comment.

I made an initial contact with a representative of one of the major coffee shoops in the city and he seemed interest to see how the project evolves. It also looks like getting the feedstock would not be a problem since there are a lot of coffee shops in the city and even more coffee grounds.  

As far as branding and sponsorship strategy goes, at the moment I am working in two fronts. In one, approaching coffee shops to let them see how the project incorporates in their corporate social responsibility goals. And second, approaching nonprofit organizations that work with food and urban agriculture to invite them to join has partners or collaborators. In the future, as production grows it will be essential to look for new markets to sell the mushrooms.

As far as branding goes, I would like to give it a fresh look. I like the name MUSHROOM CITY as well as just M.City. I have some ideas for logo, what colors to use and so on. But that is not my priority at this early stage.  

viva's picture

A good start for urban agriculture,

How could this proposal be improved?: 

You could also produce shitake, and probably include other kinds of organic waste to improve the quality of the compost.


Peg Lahn's picture

The Stop is always a strength! Best wishes on this enterprise.

Sasha's picture

This is a terrific project idea. I like how you already have external support from Bullfrog and Friends with Trinity Bellwood Park. My only concern is that you have quite a bit of limitations. For example, you say you will use bicycles to conserve Co2 emmissions. What about during the winter time when you won't be able to?

Also, using an abosulte zero carbon emission process is not possible. Like I said, it depends on the weather conditions to get around. Also, if things do not work out with your current processing facilities downtown Toronto, you will need backup facilities ready. Do you have any in mind?  

Finally, your monitoring plan will have to be very precise and consistent. There is quite a bit of detail involved in this project. Awareness and reduction of pollution, etc., will have to have a close watch on to determine if your project is achieving its results. 

How could this proposal be improved?: 

Making a backup Plan B with regards to transportation and processing facilities. 

Also, detailing your monitoring plan.

gelmanc's picture

Hello and thank you for your comment.

The use of bicycles is taking place only at the pilot project stage. In the future the plan is to use Electric and Hybrid vehicles.

Regarding zero emissions I believe is possible to at least achieve carbon neutrality, meaning that even if a fuel such as gas is used in the process; it is possible to offset the CO2 emissions by buying carbon credits, making the process carbon neutral. And of curse energy can be purchased from companies that distribute energy generated by wind and solar technologies, which do not generate CO2.  

Finally the facilities currently used are mainly for the pilot project stage. In order to escalate the process, it is necessary to have a greenhouse exclusively dedicated to mushroom production.

mattregier's picture

Great potential...particularly from a food security perspective. After reviewing the attached photos, my concern is the (assumed) one-time use of ziploc bags used to grow the mushrooms. What is done with the bags once they've served their purpose? To further support your commitment to the 3Rs, is there an alternative to the bags that will work for your process, and will reduce the amount of waste generated?

gelmanc's picture

Hello and thank you for your comment. You are right; the bags currently used are not the best alternative. I am also using bigger compostable bags (not shown on the pictures) as well as researching on smaller biodegradable/compostable bags. There are other technical alternatives like the use of glass bottles (currently done in Japan to produce King Oyster mushrooms) but the final decision will depend on what is more environmentally friendly and economically feasible, since the bottles can be reused but they need to be wash.

oilnomore's picture

This project manifests how waste produces delicious food. As you experience and confidence grow you may try other mushrooms.

How could this proposal be improved?: 

If you have variety of nutrients from different waste biomass, you can grow all kinds of mushrooms. Other than coffee waste, there are okara, biochar, compost, soyoil by-product, and many other food processors' waste.

chris winter's picture

This is a great mix of social, food, business, and environment.  Nice.  But then, I have a weakspot for fried mushrooms.

And they say conservers want to keep us in the dark!



How could this proposal be improved?: 

Does this have to be done centrally, or what is the potential for mushroom farms cropping up around the city -- much like community gardens.  Is there a training potential with the project?

gelmanc's picture

Hello and thank you for your question.

A cost / benefit / environment analysis will have to be made to determine the best model. However I see potential for anyone with some space at home, to receive training and join as a satellite farm.

chris winter's picture

First mushrooms, then chickens.  We will make Toronto an urban agriculture hub!  Sounds great.

virginia's picture

Is an excellent project, working with the environment and the community, improving the quality of life of people. We must support this work.

Angelica Acero Diaz-Granados

amadgep's picture

For me this project makes good environmental and social practices, reducing solid waste, no pollution and help people. Currently these projects are environmentally sustainable, economically and socially, an excellent combination for their development.

mpickering's picture

This is a very well-thought out idea, and I like the practical engagement with key players. Plus I think the mushroom focus is kind of fun and will capture people's imaginations.

The carbon emissions associated with Toronto's organic waste is a matter for serious consideration, since, depending on what happens to this waste, it can produce methane which has a eC02 value 21 times that of carbon dioxide. So activities that reduce methane production from organic waste are a critical to an effective carbon reduction strategy.

How could this proposal be improved?: 

It would be useful for the purposes of this contest to work to get more specific information - at least reasonable estimates -- about how much coffee grinds are being thrown out from coffee shops in Toronto right now, and what happens to them - are they sent to landfill? Is there future plans for them to end up in the City's green bin program? Then we have a "baseline" of what kinds of carbon emissions are associated with straight disposal of the coffee grounds now.

emily wilch's picture

It's really exciting to see a sustainable project that is making use of multiple green practices including the use of electric vehicles or bicycles and reusing old coffee grinds. It's also interesting to see how this project is helping to support other community projects and adding to the social responsibility of select companies.

mjanes's picture

Teaching people a new way to use waste material and promote urban/sustainable agriculture is a double dose of goodness!!

htrived5's picture

Helping in cutting down the carbon level as well as utilization of the ground coffee that is generally thrown thinking as a waste is a good social welfare job. As it creates food for the needy and at the same time creating a natural manure for the mushrooms to grow organically.

JLanger's picture

I love coffee.  I love mushrooms.  I hate CO2 (in excess).  The project has clear objectives, business plan, benefit, visibility.  Nothwithstanding all the over-caffeinated Torontonians making mounds of coffee big can this be from a GHG reduction standpoint.  This is not to undermine the value of demonstrating low-carbon business models, in fact, this might be the major value of the project, in which case this aspect could be better emphasized including how it could be leveraged out to other businesses.  

How could this proposal be improved?: 

Would like to see a clearer indication of the GHG emission reduction, both the direct and the 'indirect' through demonstrating and 'mainstreaming' low-carbon operations.  

ssawhne2's picture

the project has a potential as it let us to reuse the food waste and protect enviroment too

How could this proposal be improved?: 

But what about , if some one doesn't like mushrooms ????

jroddy's picture

I like that this is geared to the social aspect of a community.  Making mushrooms to feed people in need...interesting

How could this proposal be improved?: 

I would like to see how this can be self sustaining to a larger part of a city.

ssahdra's picture

Toronto an Urban Agricultural Hub

Making Toronto a carbon free environment is a great gesture. This project has a lot of potential for improving the times to come and help sustain a health carbon free environment. Growing mushrooms to save nature and eliimate carbon emitting business models is essential to help prevent the environment. 

rpate263's picture

I really liked the idea of buliding the environment that would be carbon free but will this idea work in reality?

Will people really start using bicycle's for bringing down the carbon emission and will it be supported by most people or i would rather say,will it be backed by any major organization's?

Jania C's picture

I think this proposal demonstrates how a small change (ending the coffee life cycle) can have so much impact in many spheres of life.

I read a few other comments in here  and I think the improvemetns suggested are sufficient.

All the best Gelman.

adamlisk's picture

great plan!

jaco262's picture

I think it's a very interesting project has many strengths and can be not only a solution to a city but to a world that cares little for the most important things.

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