From Iceland — From Farm to Plate: Rækta’s Mushrooms and Microgreens

From Farm to Plate: Rækta’s Mushrooms and Microgreens

Published June 21, 2024

From Farm to Plate: Rækta’s Mushrooms and Microgreens
Photo by
Art Bicnick for The Reykjavík Grapevine

Akureyri’s Rækta Microfarm values local produce over imports

Once a new business pops up in the country — especially far from Reykjavík — it’s always exciting. It’s doubly exciting if that new venture is food-related — then it actually gives us hope. 

Could the half-rotted imported greens at my local Bónus soon be swapped for fresh, crunchy, locally sourced varieties? Can delicacies like mushrooms be grown indoors? Can a fine dining restaurant build a menu almost exclusively around produce grown nearby, rather than succumbing to the allure of “best of French/Mexican/insert your option cuisine”? With these curiosities in mind, on a trip to Akureyri a few months ago, I paid a visit to Rækta Microfarm.

Welcome to Rækta

Rækta Microfarm is run by an Italian couple who made their home in Akureyri more than a decade ago. Giacomo Montanelli had been working at Urban Farm, a high-tech greenhouse on the premises of Hotel Akureyri, for several years. Last year, when the hotel broke ground for an expansion and decided to close Urban Farm, Giacomo was offered the chance to take over the business. “I only took the microgreens,” Giacomo explains. His partner, Serena Pedrana, joined in to help with marketing and customer service.

Photo by Art Bicnick

While Giacomo didn’t come from a horticulture background, his time at Urban Farm ignited a passion that now fuels every aspect of Rækta. “I love it. I’m just passionate about it,” he says. His partner chimes in to add that his passion extends beyond the microgreen farm, “We can’t even see from the window, because he’s growing tomatoes and there are tomato plants everywhere.” 

“I’m Italian and I love basil. There’re so many varieties of basil and it was so hard to find a variety that goes well on a pizza.”

Rækta takes its seed sourcing seriously, using only non-GMO seeds whose DNA hasn’t been genetically altered. The farm offers over 20 varieties of microgreens, including coriander, cress, nasturtium, sorrel, broccoli, radish, spicy mustard and more. Contrary to the common perception that microgreens are easy to grow, they are actually a delicate and demanding crop. Successful microgreen production requires careful management of several key factors — consistent lighting, temperature control and regular watering. Once these basic processes are secured, it takes five to eight days for most microgreens to be ready for harvest, 10 days for cabbage or peas, and around three weeks for basil and sorrel.

Microgreens are gaining popularity not only for their convenience in indoor cultivation, even during Akureyri’s harsh winters, but also for their nutrient density. For instance, broccoli microgreens are 40 times more nutrient-dense than fully-grown broccoli.

Walking around Rækta’s lush indoor garden, I’m curious which of the microgreens is the most unique. “Basil,” answers Giacomo without hesitation. “Basil?” I’m confused as the herb seems to be one of the easiest crops to grow or find in shops — tiny basil plants are available in almost every supermarket in Reykjavík. “It wasn’t a joke,” Giacomo clarifies upon seeing my puzzled expression. “I’m Italian and I love basil. There’re so many varieties of basil and it was so hard to find a variety that goes well on a pizza.” Luckily, his quest was successful and Rækta’s basil has been receiving positive feedback from customers.

Circular practises

Rækta’s operations primarily cater to restaurants in the Akureyri area, with a gradual expansion into the northeastern region underway. Recently, they began deliveries to Mývatn. The farm also offers a rotating weekly selection of microgreens for individual consumers through a subscription model.

Giacomo outlines that since making a zero-waste product is highly important to him and Serena, collaborating with restaurants has been the easier route — they’ve already established a process where restaurants return trays every week in exchange for a fresh tray of microgreens. As interest from individual consumers grows, Rækta has let customers either borrow trays or bring their own containers. Individual orders, priced at 2.790 ISK per tray, are available for pickup every Thursday afternoon.

Local supermarkets have also expressed interest in selling Rækta’s microgreens, but since the plants need to be watered regularly and the only available packaging is disposable plastic, the team has decided to put such plans on hold until a greener, no-waste solution is available.

Since Rækta opened its doors last year, the business has been taking off slowly but surely. “We started in October and that’s a slow season for restaurants. It’s not the same as in Reykjavík here,” Serena explains. “Business really goes down a lot.” The farm began the winter by contacting restaurants and growing their client base. They even managed to secure a few grants. 

“I think this summer I’m going to start paying myself a salary,” Giacomo laughs.

Mushroom movement

In addition to microgreens, Rækta has quickly added mushrooms and hemp to its roaster. With a grant from the association of municipalities of Northeast Iceland, they’re collaborating with North, a venture by chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason of Reykjavík’s Michelin-starred Dill. Rækta produces mushrooms and executive chef Rafn Svansson incorporates them into North’s menu, introducing restaurant-goers to the incredible culinary versatility of fungi.

“There’s a big demand from individuals, too,” says Serena. “We sell out as soon as we post about mushrooms.”

To source mushroom growing kits and learn more about the process, Rækta connected with Cristina Isabelle Cotofana from Sveppasmiðja in Borgarnes. Currently, they grow shiitake, Lion’s Mane and oyster mushrooms.

My attention is particularly drawn to the Lion’s Mane, which has enjoyed some social media hype recently. Lion’s Mane supplements are readily available in health stores and said to improve memory and cognition, while Instagram chefs are turning them into steaks and emphasising that they can reduce depression and anxiety. Giacomo agrees this one has been a real hit among Akureyringurs.

Giacomo and Serena emphasise that one of their goals is to reduce the amount of imported produce in Iceland, both microgreens and mushrooms and introduce local restaurants to products grown right next door. 

Local delights

Local produce is important, not only for the founders of Rækta but also for the chefs behind North. The restaurant tucked inside Hotel Akureyri transforms quality produce into an exceptional dining experience, distinguishing itself with its focus on carefully sourcing each ingredient. They name every farmer, fisherman, or producer involved — a commitment rarely found elsewhere in the dining industry. 

As Art Bicnick and I have the opportunity to secure limited seating at North for a late dinner, I’m thrilled to spot Rækta’s name on the menu. Chef Rafn was incredibly accommodating during our visit, and although the experience typically caters to omnivores, a vegetarian menu can be requested.

Rækta’s microgreens accompany most of North’s savoury dishes — nasturtium, marigold and cress sprouts add bursts of vibrant green, making you forget it’s the dead of winter.

“Next course — mushrooms,” chef Rafn, brings the new plates to our table. “Magic?” Art tries to make a joke, but Rafn shakes his head in denial, “I’m a seasonal restaurant.” 

In front of me is a dish of grilled leek purée, organic barley from East Iceland and a mix of grilled mushroom stems from Rækta. It’s garnished with fermented red cabbage and Icelandic Tindur cheese — a combination that may seem unconventional, but the fact that it’s all locally sourced adds to its excitement. As a snowstorm rages outside, I savour mushrooms grown in the north of Iceland. What a treat!

Get your fresh greens from Rækta.

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