Situated 100 feet (around 30 m) below the streets of Clapham, London is a now-defunct World War II bomb shelter that was, originally, built to provide protection to over 8,000 people during enemy air-raids. Today, more than 70 years after the end of the war, the space has been transformed into what is likely the country’s first subterranean farm, known as Growing Underground. Owned by entrepreneurs Steve Dring and Richard Ballard, it is currently the site for incredibly hi-tech and sustainable hydroponic farming, of small, leafy greens.
Hydroponics, a type of hydroculture, refers to the growing of plants in nutrient-rich water, without the need for soil. The long tunnels, of the bomb shelter, house vertically stacked layers of hydroponic beds, or “vertical farms”, that produce fresh and organic salads and herbs. The system utilises energy-efficient LEDs to provide the light necessary for the plants’ growth. Featuring a range of advanced technologies, it requires zero pesticide, over 70-percent less water than open-field agriculture and substantially less energy than a greenhouse. The enterprise is part of Zero Carbon Food, a company, jointly owned by Dring and Ballard, that uses abandoned underground spaces and hydroponic systems for growing leafy greens and herbs. Dring said:
The whole system runs automatically, with an environmental computer controlling the lighting, temperature, nutrients and air flow.
This lack of dependency on weather conditions actually ensures consistent product quality, all year round. Among the plants grown in the underground farm are small crops like pea shoots, radish, coriander, garlic chiveand mustard leaf, and salad greens with short growth cycles, such as watercress, Thai basil and Japanese mizuna. The farm’s proximity to London means that the produce can be packed and distributed to the city’s restaurants and caterers in less than four hours of being harvested. According to Dring, Growing Underground has already teamed with Farmdrop, a local food delivery company, and is currently looking to join hands with the supermarket chain, Whole Foods. Dring added:
We’ve got to utilize the spaces we’ve got. There’s a finite amount of land and we can grow salads and herbs – which start losing flavor and quality as soon as you cut them – in warehouses and rooftops in cities near the people who will eat them. Use the rural land for things like carrots, potatoes and livestock.
Once fully developed,the site has the capacity of growing around 11,000 to 44,000 pounds of crops, every year. For the purpose of promotion, the company has also partnered with Michel Roux, a world-renowned two-star Michelin chef. Roux said:
When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy, but the market for this is huge.
To know more about Zero Carbon Food, head over to its official website.