MUSHROOM CITY. Social Enterprise (MCSE) Toronto

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.UniquenessEnvironmental:

  • 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 ReductionsTransportation:

  • 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.MissionThe Stop strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds community and challenges inequality.What We DoThe 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.PhilosophyWe 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.
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