Craft brewing has become more than a little popular in recent years, with more and more breweries setting up shop in Alberta.
But the brewing process has a by-product — spent grain — which usually ends up being composted or in the landfill.
Five years ago, Alex Villeneuve, a student at Old’s College’s brewmaster program, began bagging it in Ziplocs and using it to grow mushrooms.
“I thought: ‘Well, if I grow mushrooms from this spent brewers’ grain, it’d be a really cool food-beer pairing to serve the mushroom I grew from the beer with the beer that I brew,;” said Villeneuve.
There, in his dorm room closet, began to grow a fruitful business idea.
“I found that the mushrooms grown from spent brewers’ grain were a whole lot larger, they tasted better and they were a lot fresher than what was locally available.
“That inspired me to take it from a Ziploc-sized experiments to something more commercial.”
With help from a local AI company, Ceres Solutions now grows about 100 pounds of oyster mushrooms every week out of a pilot facility at Olds College and sells it to Alberta restaurants.
But the process doesn’t end there.
“As a result of growing these mushrooms, the residual mushroom compost is actually higher in protein than when we’ve started,” said Villeneuve.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently approved the leftover grains to be used as livestock feed.
What’s more, early tests at Olds College suggest the high-quality feed may also reduce methane emission from the cows that eat it.
“It’s cool to add a whole bunch of value to three different industries in Alberta.”
Now, with help from an Emissions Reductions Alberta grant, Villeneuve plans to operate a full-scale farm in Southern Alberta in the next year, producing 4,000 pounds of mushrooms and 12,000 pounds of enhanced cow feed every week.