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MA Eco-Social Design: Project 2 by Julia Maier, Niklas Blum | SS 2021

Caffungo – Growing in Solidarity

caffungo aims to create new and solidary job opportunities for inhabitants of the House of Solidarity in Bressanone by growing oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds for the local gastronomy. The project is not only super local, but is also doing good for the environment, supports local agriculture, secures regional value chains and first of all, creates fair jobs


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Due to the effects of the Corona crisis, finding jobs is a growing challenge for the residents of the House of Solidarity in Bressanone. To counteract this problem, we have devised a project that will help create new, fair, and social job opportunities. It also poses an alternative to the often unstable and exploitative job situations in the low-wage sector where many of the guests of the House of Solidarity usually find their jobs.

We want to recycle coffee grounds and use them as a breeding ground for delicious oyster mushrooms.
While generating fair work, this mushroom cultivation also gives the imported coffee a second use and provides the local gastronomy with a new, high-quality and socially responsible source of gourmet mushrooms.

Background & matter of concern
The House of Solidarity (HoS) is a social organization that has been supporting people in need since 2002. It shelters a diverse mix of people from all age groups with different life situations and difficulties, like homelessness, addiction, health problems, or refugee status. Getting a job these days is not easy for anyone. But there are some additional struggles the guests of the HoS have to face. Such as cultural misunderstandings, language barriers, a lot of them don’t have a higher education level.

Project aims
First and foremost, caffungo is a social project, aiming to provide work and a chance for integration for its employees. Therefore, the project approach must meet some important requirements and has to consider the multiple challenges the specific life circumstances of its employees imply. Language independence, opportunities for personal growth and professional development, fair and solidary working conditions and independence from previous professional knowledge are to be considered. caffungo aims to fulfill all these points while being at the same time as sustainable as possible.


Idea and approach
The project sets out to grow oyster mushrooms for Bressanone’s gastronomy in a low-tech, small-scale mushroom farm. The crops will be grown in reusable buckets on a substrate made from recycled coffee grounds from local cafés.


Coffee grounds are an ideal substrate to grow on, as they are widely available and retain many nutrients after brewing. When coffee is prepared, less than 1 % of the coffee biomass actually ends up in the cup. However, the huge amount of coffee waste generated each day is still full of nutrients that oyster mushrooms love to grow on. By providing a second use for the imported coffee, caffungo also contributes to a more sustainable gastronomy.
The illustration below shows the process of the low-tech and sustainable caffungo grow cycle.

The whole process involves many actors which have to work together like cogwheels. The most important actor next to the HoS is the farm “Bühlerhof”. This cooperation has a lot of positive impacts on the project besides guidance in farming processes and providing space: the workers of the HoS will be joining a team, create work relationships and gain experience which can lead to better chances for their further ahead.
Together with the Bühlerhof, we combine the necessary expertise and work motivation to grow local, solidarity-based and, above all, delicious oyster mushrooms.
caffungo is a brand that has a lot of unique selling points and reasons for the local gastronomy to buy their mushrooms from.

An integral part of the concept is to stay as low-tech and local as possible. It doesn’t have to be a complex process to grow oyster mushrooms; anyone can do it if they choose the right methods. We summarized all the knowledge gathered to do so and everything surrounding the topic of mushroom cultivation throughout the semester in a handbook. It includes information about mushroom cultivation processes, concepts for the farm’s structure and ideas for the future such as marketing strategies. 


The projects process
caffungo is still in its initial stages. Yet, we tried our best to enable the project to continue and provided supporting material and research for the involved actors. Quite at the beginning, we conducted a survey analyzing the gastronomy's response to our idea. A competitor analysis helped us position caffungo in the market and confirmed the project’s locally unique concept.
To assess the current situation of the inhabitants from the HoS, we held some “guided paper talks” with them. The goal was to create a mapping of their current feelings, diverse backgrounds, hopes and aspirations as well as their work experiences and expectations for future jobs. Most of them stated previous experiences working in the sector of agriculture and could see themselves working at caffungo.
Besides that, we developed a phase plan together with our partner from the HoS. This phase plan consists of four steps to grow the business in a slow and sustainable manner.
The very first step of the plan was to grow mushrooms in our student apartments to see if our mushroom cultivation method works. We were able to gain a lot of knowledge and learnings throughout this process after which we managed to start the second phase of the plan: Preparing six growing buckets together with a possible future employee at the Bühlerhof.

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To represent the diverse background of caffungo and all actors involved, a colourful and friendly visual language was developed. One step in this process was a co-design workshop together with the inhabitants of the HoS. The resulting linocut stamps became a main design element of the caffungo corporate design.

All in all, we hope that caffungo will grow and the farm will increase its production, ideally leading to more fair jobs for the inhabitants of the HoS in the long run.


Julia Maier, Niklas Blum

Teaching Team:
David Calas (Object–Spaces–Services)
Kris Krois (Communication–Interaction–Services)
Secil Ugur Yavuz (Design Research)
Marie Beuthel (Social Interaction Design)

Haus der Solidarität

Supporters  & Stakeholders: