US (NY): Mushroom farms find a balance between marketing their purpose and their product

When you own a purpose-driven company, you have to convey your mission to your customers, but that mission can't be your brand's entire identity. For New York City-based sustainable mushroom farm Afterlife, it took a complete rebrand to strike that balance.

Afterlife co-founders Winson Wong and Sierra Alea have long been interested in solving the problem of food waste. Their first venture together, a hyper-local composting network through which they placed composting digesters in New York City parking garages, wasn't scalable. It took a lot of time to find space in the garages, not to mention the time it took to build the digesters. They went back to the drawing board and looked to nature for a solution.

"One of the main things that breaks down food in nature is mushrooms," says Wong, who also serves as Afterlife's CEO. "We decided to take the food waste we were collecting and start growing, experimenting, and cultivating mushrooms from it."

In 2021, Wong and Alea launched the business as a small farm in Queens. Using a circular model, their team took food waste from partnering restaurants and food distributors, used fungi and mycelium to decompose the organic waste, and turned the byproducts into over 20 varieties of gourmet mushrooms to sell back to those food businesses.

Wong and Alea quickly established successful partnerships with New York food distributors and restaurants, including Cote, the only Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse in the world. The only problem for their growing business? Its name.


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