Locally grown food from Kera
Sprout salad, beers, freshly pressed apple juice. Keran Hallit hosts a growing community of urban food producers.
September means hard work for the shiny juice press of Omamehu.fi.
“Mondays are the busiest. Last Monday, our workday ended after midnight,” says Matti Hakala, the founder of the juice press.
“Apples just kept coming and coming,” says Teppo Toivonen, business partner.
The Helsinki Metropolitan Area is a significant producer of Finnish organic apples. There are countless apple trees in allotment gardens and detached-house areas. One tree can produce 250 kg of apples in a good year. The easiest way to utilise apples is to press them for juice.
“In many gardens, apples tend to end up as biowaste,” says Hakala with regrets.
Last autumn was a trial run, but now customers have found the service of Omamehu.fi. The company’s brand promise has received special thanks.
“Each batch is always made for the customer from their own apples,” says Matti Hakala.
Keran Hallit make an impression when arriving there for the first time. There is more floor area than in Sello or Iso Omena, almost 100,000 m2, all on one level.
In 2019, the halls next to Kera Railway Station were empty as the S Group logistics centre had moved out. Now they are full of life.
The halls host, among other things, the largest gym in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the largest padel centre in Finland – and a growing number of urban food businesses. There are already three breweries: 8-Bit Brewing, Masis Brewery and Tired Uncle Brewing Co. Their products can be tasted in the beer restaurant Tired Uncle’s Taproom, which was opened in Keran Hallit in spring 2021.
Food businesses grew into a community
Brewmaster Luca Coelho is showing off his kingdom. Two fermenters contain the best-selling beer ‘Hazy Uncle’ of the Tired Uncle brewery, the others contain fruity sour beer, American Pale Ale and Imperial Stout. New beer recipes are constantly being developed as a continuation of the current 20 or so. The beer shop’s refrigerated display cabinet holds a long row of house beer – Kera Uncle IPA. Coelho says that premises for the brewery of five friends were searched for a long time.
“This is the perfect place, the rent is affordable and the facilities are suitable for brewing without any major changes,” says Coelho.
But the best thing is the community. The three microbreweries next to each other are by no means in a ruthless competition with each other.
“We’re more like friends. We share the same goal, to make better beers and help each other in doing that,” says Coelho.
The partners in the juice business also praise the good communal atmosphere. The juice press has already been used to press berries to flavour specialty beers of the breweries, for example.
“Padel House asked if they could sell our apple juice. We promised a delivery as soon as our peak pressing season is over,” says Teppo Toivonen.
The first tenant of the halls, Silmusalaatti that moved in two years ago when the halls were completely empty, is also delighted with the new food entrepreneurs.
“It’s very nice to have other players of the same field. We are working through same challenges,” says Samuli Laurikainen, the founder of Silmusalaatti.
The sprout salad products of Silmusalaatti are already available throughout Finland, and the company turnover is now indicated in millions.
Silmusalaatti is agriculture of the future. The required floor area is only 500 m2, the production is organic and extremely efficient. The crop grows in 10 layers and is harvested several times a week.
“We get 25 t of crop per square metre per year,” says Laurikainen.
A grain grower needs two hectares of land for the same amount and only gets one harvest a year.
More recent tenants are aiming for the growth path of Silmusalaatti. As the flow of Omamehu’s private customers slows down as the autumn evenings get darker, cooperation will be developed to process side streams of berry and fruit wholesalers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
“They have large quantities of apples and pears that are absolutely in a prime condition, but do not have sufficient self-life for retail trade,” says Teppo Toivonen.
New partners are being actively sought. Omamehu intends to produce custom-made products for shops and cafés, for example. The Finnish market also lacks a soft drink that is popular in Germany – a mixture of fresh apple juice and carbonated mineral water – apfelschorle.
The Tired Uncle brewery has also invested in growth. The new fermenters, twice as large as the previous ones, are ready in China waiting for shipment to Espoo.
“With the old equipment, we were able to make two batches a day, with the new six batches,” says Brewmaster Coelho.
Increasing production is necessary to turn brewing, which started out as a hobby, into a profitable business.
Circular economy in DNA
The City of Espoo is turning Kera into a model area for circular economy. Mia Johansson, specialist of the shortly ending KIEPPI circular economy project, is delighted that Kera’s urban food producers have found each other.
“It’s great that they have found their way to Keran Hallit and are making circular economy a central part of their operations. For example, Omamehu’s idea to utilise the side streams of fruit wholesalers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area is excellent,” says Johansson.
The temporary use of Keran Hallit has also turned out to be a successful circular economy experiment. Affordable premises that are suitable for food production have attracted a good number of new businesses.
“The popularity of the halls shows that the city can attract food industry companies with premises that are suitable for their operations,” Laurikainen says.
The next steps in circular economy have already been tested in the Kieppi project.
“Kera is still missing an actor that would utilise, for example, Omamehu’s apple mass or the breweries’ mash,” says Mia Johansson.
Now, they mainly end up in biowaste collection and are turned into soil, but more valuable uses could be found for nutrient-rich biomass. One of the Kieppi experiments was using Kera breweries’ beer mash as a medium at the Helsieni mushroom farm next to the halls. Many of Omamehu’s customers come to get apple juice pressing residue for their garden to serve as a soil conditioner.
“And piglets and sheep like it too,” says Teppo Toivonen.
Urban food businesses seem to have circular-economy thinking embedded in the company DNA. For example, the growing process of Silmusalaatti was built from the very beginning to be highly efficient so there is not much to recycle. Wastage is also reduced by the fact that the product is only produced according to orders.
“We would also like to recycle irrigation water, but the law prohibits it,” says Samuli Laurikainen.
One example of the circular-economy cooperation between Kera’s food businesses is the planned biowaste reduction project. The amount could be reduced to one tenth of the current amount simply by pressing the liquid out.
“The equipment is too costly for a single company, but we are now trying to join our forces. It will be possible if more companies are ready to split the costs,” Laurikainen says.
Keran Hallit will be demolished when the construction of a new residential area of 14,000 people starts in a few years’ time. The current leases are valid until 2024.
“Our goal is to grow out of these premises by then,” says sprout salad entrepreneur Laurikainen.
Luca Coelho of Tired Uncle says that he will miss the halls when it is time to leave them behind in the future.
“Keran Hallit has developed quickly, the place is already completely different than when we came here. We have gigs and art here, it’s like a second living room. People are coming to the events also beyond Espoo,” says Coelho.
6Aika KIEPPI, short for Kestävien kaupunginosien kumppanuusmalli (Partnership model for sustainable neighbourhoods), is a project in which Tampere, Espoo and Turku develop new circular and sharing economy solutions for the urban environment in cooperation with companies and other partners.