It lies barely a kilometer from Noma, which Restaurant Magazine has chosen as the world's best restaurant more than a few times. It is also less than 300m from Alchemist, a top-rated immersive dining experience venue.
As such, Bygaard, the urban herb and mushroom farm, is ideally located on the hip Refshaleøen island in Copenhagen, Denmark. Not so long ago, this area served as a shipyard, but now, as a creative hub, it attracts two million visitors a year. Bygaard supplies the Danish capital's gastronomic scene with locally grown fresh produce. "We can cycle anywhere in Copenhagen in 15 minutes, tops," begins Lasse Antoni Carlsen, the company's CEO.
Lasse Carlsen pictured at the very left of the team photo
Three fundamental values motivated Lasse to start a project like Bygaard: community building, respect for the environment, and delivering quality. And all three are equally important. "With our urban farm, we don't just market products; we help shape the city. We feel good in this environment, and customers love our proximity. And so, with this concept, we also want to be an example to others. The community only benefits from more local organic growing projects."
Respect for the environment
And right there are the two words at the heart of Lasse's production model of 'respect for the environment': local and organic. "We farm entirely organically, and in the future, we want to move towards biodynamic cultivation when we also develop our own substrate. Currently, that's composted in a circular economic way, using it as a nutrient medium to grow special herbs. Mushrooms, our main product, is a good meat substitute and a valuable option to reduce the polluting impact of meat production," he says.
Lasse explains that a Danish study found that transportation and packaging cause 69% of imported mushrooms' CO2 emissions. "Local cultivation solves that problem. That's not the only advantage. Transit times mean imported products never achieve the same quality." That leads to the CEO's non-negotiable third value: quality.
"Selling to Copenhagen's best restaurants means selling to the world's current top restaurants. We sort very carefully for size, shape, and texture, also considering how clients will use the product. We match our cultivation to that."
Lasse began focusing on growing micro-greens, mushrooms, and herbs in warehouses, basements, and containers five years ago. Before that, he had several years of experience in bottom-up approaches to open-field cultivation, hydroculture, and insect farming with and for the local community. Then - and now - he surrounds himself with people from different backgrounds and took study trips to countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Lasse's first company was an architectural firm that focused on designing kitchen gardens for restaurants.
"We were consultants. When Noma opened here on the island in 2016, we helped brainstorm how they could grow their own vegetables," he remembers.
But Lasse started itching to get his own hands dirty. "It's fun to design a project for others; getting into the thick of things is even more fun. We started growing microgreens and some mushrooms for restaurants. They immediately loved it because our quality was spot-on. After winning the Ellen MacArthur competition for a circular economy model in the port's southern part, we moved into a warehouse there. Business kept improving, and after a few months, the space was already too small. We had to add a 20-foot container for mushrooms.
That was in 2021. Then the pandemic hit, and the restaurants shut their doors. Meanwhile, we had Denmark's broadest specialty mushroom supply, so we decided to start mixed 1kg box home deliveries. And when the pandemic rules relaxed, increasing demand meant we needed a 40-foot container."
These climate-controlled containers now stand on a 1.100 m2 site, of which cultivation covers 300 m2. The next plan is to build a 500 m2 greenhouse. With production currently at 1.5 tons per week, the supply is quite extensive for Copenhagen's hospitality sector. Continuous Hen-of-the-wood (Grifola frondosa), pink oyster mushroom (Pleurotus Djamor), golden oyster mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus), nameko (Pholiota namko), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), king oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii), and common oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) production is guaranteed.
Bygaard's mushroom farmers' day starts at 6 am. By 8 am, the product is packed, and distribution can begin. The rest of the workday, until 2 pm, is filled with planning and crop management. In the future, when a retail space opens, there will also be afternoon activity at the site. A few more years down the road, Lasse sees a building rising up at another location for growing larger volumes of standard products alongside specialty production at Refshaleøen.
"That shouldn't be a problem; the market's there, and our 18-person team consists of highly qualified people. But we shouldn't be too fussy. Stability, focusing on good management and clear internal communication, is the first concern. So far, that's succeeding quite well, and it's great to see what a group of people can achieve given the right framework," Lasse concludes.