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City Blocks Getting Tastier

Helsieni brings mushrooms to apartment buildings. The company takes part in the project Circular Green Blocks, aiming to accelerate circular and sharing economy.

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At the Helsieni estate in Kera, Espoo, you will find oyster mushrooms, shiitakes, and lion’s manes. It is possible to enjoy their mushrooms at about ten restaurants in the Helsinki Region, but with the help of the company, you can also farm them yourself in your kitchen.   

Helsieni farms and sells mushrooms, but also supports circular economy and urban farming by teaching people how to grow mushrooms at home.

The company participates in the Circular Green Blocks project, which introduces new sharing and circular economy solutions in apartment buildings and housing companies in the Helsinki Region. The project brings together businesses, housing companies and residents.

The founder of the company Helsieni, Chris Holtslag, posing for a photo with greenery in the background.
Mr Chris Holtslag is the founder of Helsieni, a company that combines circular economy and urban farming.

Mr Chris Holtslag, the founder of Helsieni, takes us for a tour at the estate. He explains how important it is to have the right temperature and humidity. And as a matter of fact, the Finnish climate is optimal. 

Mr Holtslag says that one of the benefits of Circular Green Blocks is networking with other participating companies in the project.

– It is easier to visit the apartment buildings if we have a variety of farming products from other companies to show as well, and not just our own mushrooms.

One of the other participants is Blokgarden, a company that offers farming as a service with a variety of pre-planted seedings. Helsieni and Blokgarden make a good match and they can pilot their initiatives together in the same building. 

So far, the farming pilots have had great feedback from the residents: They would like to continue farming also after the programme itself and have noticed that farming is a refreshing addition to the environment in and around the buildings.

One of the targets of the project is to spread awareness and interest in urban farming. It is not something new, as many Finns farm their vegetables out in their gardens – and so do the residents of the apartment buildings. What is new? Companies offering solutions that make urban farming easier. And Helsieni is one of those.

Many benefits for the participants

Project Manager, Mr Lassi Sarlos at Circular Green Blocks says that all pilots of the project Circular Green Blocks are related to sustainable development in apartment buildings by for example sustainable mobility, item sharing and urban farming. It has benefits for the buildings and their residents, as well as for the service providers who partner with the project, along with the City of Helsinki.

On the one hand, housing companies of the apartment buildings learn to recognise real and concrete circular economy solutions they can then implement in their properties or neighbourhood.

Project Manager Lassi Sarlos posing for a photo in Helsieni estate in Kera, Espoo.
Mr Lassi Sarlos manages the “Circular Green Blocks – Sustainable City Quarters as Circular Economy Business Promoters” project.

On the other hand, the service providers get a better understanding of the implementation of solutions with households. The project also helps the companies to identify and develop business opportunities that promote circular and sharing economy at a block level.

The City of Helsinki is also taking part in the project. The city gets information on circular and sharing economy solutions, and an understanding of how to take them into account when developing its sub-areas.

Useful coffee grounds

We are continuing our tour at Helsieni. The company sells kits for individuals, enabling them to grow mushrooms in their own kitchens – on coffee grounds. For that purpose, a box is included with everything else but those coffee grounds, which you will have to add yourself.

Helsieni Growkit, A plastic box with oyster mushrooms growing from the side, pictured in a sea setting.
With Helsieni Growkits, you can grow mushrooms on your own coffee waste.

Thanks to this pilot project, Helsieni can start cooperating with the housing companies. Mr Holtslag says that to get urban farming spreading, people need to see what can be done. That is one of the reasons why he has worked with the people in urban allotment gardens.

– Once a person in the neighbourhood starts something new, the others get curious and hopefully finally try it, too.

The word of mouth makes more and more residents involved in urban farming. Mushrooms also have a great benefit; you can start farming in the garden early in the spring and then continue until late in the autumn.

Training for other entrepreneurs

Helsieni has not yet started the marketing to the residents of the housing companies.

– We hope to develop a new plan for residents. First, we want to see what kind of success we have and then build the next steps, Mr Holtslag says.

He hopes they will find the value of urban farming and the services.

The founder of the company Helsieni, Chris Holtslag, and Project Manager Lassi Sarlos survey oyster mushrooms growing in wood logs.
Mr Holtslag and Mr Sarlos survey the oyster mushrooms growing in wood logs in one of the growing containers.

If you succeed, will you scale your services and the cooperation with the housing companies?

– I think replication is the way we favour. We do not have business dominance as our target. What we want to do is to train other mushroom entrepreneurs in other cities to start their businesses and to spread the idea of urban farming.

Many participants involved

The project Circular Green Blocks started a year ago and will run for another year.

Housing companies and residents play a big role in the project. They are taught urban farming, like how to grow mushrooms.

The idea is that they will keep on farming after the project ends – either by themselves or with the support of the companies involved.

The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council and The European Regional Development Fund have funded the project.

Image credits: Ilkka Ranta-aho and Helsieni

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