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Food for the neighbourhood – development of urban food production business in Helsinki

Interest in food production, a sustainable food system and its circular economy solutions has increased in recent years, and with the crises, food self-sufficiency has also become more and more discussed. In addition to decision-makers, city residents are also interested in sustainable urban areas and related solutions in their everyday lives. Helsinki Region Environmental Services HSY carried out urban food production experiments in apartment buildings together with residents.

The objective of the City of Helsinki is to promote increased interest in urban farming and low-carbon food. Practical work has been carried out in the 6Aika: CircularHoodFood project coordinated by HSY, where the themes of urban food production, food circular economy and carbon-neutral urban environment have been approached through grass-root level experiments. Almost 50 organisations and parties, varying from residents and housing companies to businesses, have participated in the experiments. Those participating in the experiments have gained new insights into food chains and food production and their appreciation of food has also increased.

Many benefits of urban farming

The aim of the urban food production experiments has been to find the best practices and lessons learnt in order to promote urban farming in apartment buildings and to promote climate-wise local food in city blocks.

An apartment building pilot site in Lauttasaari was part of the experiment organised in Helsinki in the summer of 2021. The experiments were organised together with entrepreneurs providing urban farming solutions, residents and housing companies and rental housing boards. Through the experiments, businesses gained opportunities for new market openings and product development, and a lot was learned from the perspective of both businesses and residents. The positive effects of urban farming have included the greening of cities, increased utility value of common spaces and community spirit among residents.

“With the help of the experiments, we wanted to encourage residents in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area to grow local food and to try farming in urban spaces.  Local food production in your own living environment can also increase the appreciation of food,” says Project Manager Roosa Halonen of Helsinki Region Environmental Services HSY.

When setting up a community garden, open and timely communication is essential within the housing company. “It is important that there are active residents and that all residents feel welcome to join the farming efforts,” says Halonen.

The experiments were exceptionally successful in terms of communication: in addition to events and residents’ events, there was a wide range of social media channels through which tens of thousands of people interested in urban farming were reached during the cultivation period. At the end of the experiment, the lessons learnt were compiled to form a practical guide and course package for housing companies and residents interested in urban farming. The course provides information on different indoor and outdoor farming solutions and explains options related to decision-making, procurement, insurance and resident communications. Residents in each building can choose their own way of doing urban farming. All the materials are free of charge.

Second sitting to reduce food waste

As much as one third of the food produced in the world ends up in waste. With the support of restaurant owners, HSY has been campaigning against food waste in its 6Aika: CircularHoodFood project. The aim has been to inspire home cooks with tips from top chefs to minimise food waste in the form of a communicative campaign. Food influencer Jyrki Sukula shared easy tips for reducing food waste together with the top chefs of restaurants Nokka, Zilla and Savoy.

The Toinen
(Second sitting) campaign aimed to reduce food waste at home with the help of public information films and concrete tips and recipes.

Chef de Cuisine Henrik Kovanen at Savoy emphasises that the restaurant’s food waste philosophy aims to make use of all parts of the plant, from carrot and turnip tops to broccoli stems.  “You can make herb oil and herb vinegar with droopy herbs. Sensory evaluation is key in food waste management,” says Kovanen.

Idea competition for sorting solutions

Almost every one of us struggles with lack of space when thinking about how to organise sorting of waste at home. Also according to a study carried out by HSY, the main obstacle to sorting is lack of space. The Recycling is getting out of
idea competition looked for new recycling solutions for homes. The competition asked residents to come up with and share modern urban solutions to facilitate sorting at home. Due to the high media coverage, more than 50 solutions were proposed in the competition.

The solutions emphasised, among other things, aesthetics, functionality and responsibility. The Finnish furniture manufacturer Niimaar Oy participated in the panel of judges and also made the prototypes of the award-winning pieces of furniture.

“As a growing company, it was a pleasure to be involved in this experiment. The ideas were quickly turned into actual pieces of furniture and we gained valuable information about the practicality of the products,” says CEO Enni
of Niimaar.

The recycling carousel was one of the winning sorting solutions. Photo: Riikka

HSY will continue to promote cooperation between housing companies and business owners in the new Circular Green Blocks partnership project. It seeks, for example, innovative circular economy service solutions for yard improvement and promoting urban farming at pilot sites in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.

“Currently, the project has an open call for business where they can submit either new circular economy solutions or solutions requiring further development,” says Halonen.

Links and more info:

The 6Aika:
project promoted the creation of a carbon-neutral urban
environment and sustainable food system, the reduction of the carbon footprint
of food and the emergence of related new business activities, cooperation and

The project was implemented by Helsinki Region
Environmental Services HSY (main implementing party), the University of
Helsinki, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the City of Vantaa. The
project was part of the Six City Strategy (6Aika) of the six largest cities in
Finland and received funding from the European Regional Development Fund

News photo: Markku Laine