I don’t normally write about a product or place unless I’ve had the chance to review or visit it, but in this case, I had to make an exception. This week, I learned about Growing Underground, London’s first underground farm (in disused WWII bomb shelters beneath the Northern Line at Clapham). That’s a pretty exciting concept for me!
Growing Underground (why hasn’t this name been thought of before?!) is the brainchild of Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, along with Michelin-starred chef (and one of my favourites!), Michel Roux Jr, and it will start trading in mid-July 2015, after 18 months of research and development (and more than £750,000 of investment).
The tunnels were used during World War II as a bomb shelter for London residents, designed to accommodate 8,000 Londoners.
The first phase of the farm, which includes a sophisticated lighting and irrigation system, is in the final stages of preparation for commercial supply. Phase one crops include pea shoots, several varieties of radish, mustard, coriander, Red Amaranth, celery, parsley and rocket.
The crops are grown in a sealed clean-room environment with a bespoke ventilation system, advanced lighting and a sophisticated irrigation system that enable the farm to produce crops at very low energy. The farm’s mission is to deliver fresh produce with zero effect on the environment and all energy is sourced from green suppliers.
Michel Roux Jr said: “I’m looking forward to creating my first dish using produce from the world’s first underground urban farm, less than two miles as the crow flies from the heart of London. It’s great to be involved in this ambitious project, for which we have equally ambitious growth plans. Above all, it’s fantastic to be able to source produce that is so fresh in the heart of Britain’s largest city.”
It’s even being backed by good old Boris Johnson, who said: “This is a fine example of the dynamic startups that are helping London lead the world in green business innovation. I want even more entrepreneurs to help create these brilliant concepts that are delivering thousands of jobs and boosting London’s green economy to almost £30 billion a year. I wish Growing Underground every success.”
I think it’s a really exciting idea and I hope to be able to visit it at some point soon (especially as I’ll hopefully be moving nearby in a month or so), when I can update this blog post with my experiences. A neighboring site to the tunnels provides an expansion opportunity to Growing Underground, creating an invisible urban growing space of several acres. So it really is onwards and upwards. Or rather, downwards…
*Photos taken from Growing Underground’s website.