Skip to content
man holding bag of coffee grounds to add to soil

Soil ‘pick-me-up’

>Listen to a radio segment on this story

–by Liz Morrison

Coffee is a good pick-me-up for you—and your garden, too. _RHP5884

A Minnesota entrepreneur is turning the papery husk from green coffee beans into an all-natural soil amendment. JavaCycle’s Soil Builder is made from recycled coffee bean chaff, a byproduct of coffee roasting that’s usually discarded. The new gardening product, manufactured by Faribault-based JavaCycle, hit retail shelves this fall at Mother Earth Gardens stores in Minneapolis.

Soil Builder was developed by James Curren of Lonsdale, Minnesota, with help from AURI. Curren is a former agricultural commodities trading and finance executive at Louis Dreyfus Commodities. In 2004, he quit the corporate world and founded Providence Coffee, a fair trade and organic coffee roasting company that serves charitable groups around the country.

A few years later, he launched JavaCycle, which creates tote bags and other merchandise out of colorful bulk coffee bags. Curren’s newest venture, recycling coffee chaff, “is the next step for JavaCycle,” he says.

Ever since Curren started roasting coffee beans commercially, “I started thinking about what else could be done with the chaff.” That question led him to AURI coproducts scientist Al Doering, who analyzed the material’s physical characteristics, and helped Curren investigate potential uses in livestock feed, fuel and fertilizer.

Coffee chaff is a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, Doering says, and it’s also very absorbent. “That led us to the idea of a soil amendment to help hold moisture, relieve compaction and promote
microbial activity and soil health,” Doering says.

He and Curren tested various blends of light, fluffy coffee chaff and other ag processing coproducts. They settled on mixing the chaff with grain byproducts. Doering devised a manufacturing process that yields an easy-to-handle, granular product. AURI also helped develop recommendations for using JavaCycle’s Soil Builder.

Additionally, JavaCycle and AURI are in the process of developing other fertilizers using coffee chaff as the base. “We have several other products in the pipeline,” states Curren.

“None of this would have happened without AURI,” Curren says. “Al quickly pieced things together.”

JavaCycle’s Soil Builder is sold in 1.5-, 3.5-, and 25-pound clear plastic bags. Curren got valuable pricing and marketing advice from Mother Earth Gardens, where JavaCycle’s Soil Builder was rolled out this fall. Over the coming months, JavaCycle will begin reaching out to regional and national garden centers.

Curren is positioning the indoor-outdoor product as a potting soil ingredient, and as a soil enhancement or top-dress for garden beds. JavaCycle’s Soil Builder is also approved for use in growing organic crops. In addition, Curren adds, “It’s a made-in-Minnesota, non-GMO product, using locally-sourced materials.”


_RHP5894 AURI and JavaCycle

 Idea to reality: JavaCycle, a Faribault, Minnesota, company, was looking for a value-added use for coffee chaff, a byproduct of coffee roasting.

AURI’s role: AURI helped formulate a soil amendment that incorporates coffee chaff and Minnesota agriculture coproducts. AURI also devised a manufacturing process to make the product, and is working with JavaCycle to develop several other products.

Outcome: Soil Builder is now being test-marketed at Mother Earth Gardens stores in Minneapolis.