It would probably be a major surprise to most locals to learn that below the busy high street of London’s Clapham Common, lies Growing Underground, London’s first underground farm. World War II tunnels built as air-raid shelters provide the perfect environment for this unique urban farm.
Cities dwellers are on the rise all over the world. In fact over 80% of the UK population lives in cities, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down and is expected to rise. Feeding our growing worldwide population is one of the biggest challenges we face and urban farming is seen as a great solution to bringing nutritious food to local communities.
Subterranean London is a fascinating world which I would encourage you to explore if you have the chance. Throughout the ages tunnels have been built across the city to serve different purposes such as transport, defence, sewage etc.. As World War II air-raids devastated London, 8 tunnels were built under London Underground to provide deep level shelters with a capacity to house around 8,000 people each. Since the war, the tunnels have been used for different purposes, from housing the first Windrush immigrants to archiving government documents.
Inspired by vertical farming Steven Dring and Richard Ballard decided to set up Growing Underground in 2012. The farm has given Clapham Common’s forgotten tunnels a new lease of life and now produces a constant supply of fresh micro greens and salad leaves 33 metres below the high street. The underground tunnels are in fact perfect for farming such produce as they provide a controlled and warm environment for these types of crops.
Growing Underground uses hydroponics and LED technology. Crops are grown year-round in a pesticide-free environment unaffected by the weather and seasonal changes. All nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system. Food miles between farm, retailers and consumers are kept to a minimum, and leaves can be in your kitchen within 4 hours of being picked and packed. Growing Underground’s hydroponics system also uses 70% less water than traditional open-field farming. The farm is currently working towards carbon neutral certification.
Growing Underground’s products are currently available throughout London from M&S, Planet Organic, Old Spitalfields Market, Whole Foods Market, Ocado, Farmdrop, Waitrose, New Covent Garden Market and independent retailers.
A tour of Growing Underground takes you down eerie pink futurist tunnels where you will gain first hand experience of the different steps of production from germination and growth to packing, while tasting some of the micro greens and salad leaves. You will even take home a sample of the freshest micro herb salad in town. A fascinating experience bound to pique your interest and your taste buds.
Disclosure: thanks to Growing Underground for inviting me to the farm. All thoughts and opinions are my own.