Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by Jean-Dominique Billaud

Going underground with Urban Farming

When you think of a London enterprise, a farm may not be the first business that springs to mind but deep underneath Clapham High Street, close to one of the city’s most famous green spaces, Clapham Common, a new venture is taking root. The world’s first underground urban farm has been established in disused tunnels dating from World War II and at the end of this month will begin providing fresh produce to businesses across the city. Historically intended to house citizens during bombing raids, the tunnels are now home to a very different population.

‘Growing Underground’ is a pioneering farming project put in place by Richard Ballard and Steven Dring in partnership with renowned chef, Michel Roux Jnr.

The Growing Underground subterranean farm. Pic courtesy of growing-underground.com

The Growing Underground subterranean farm. Pic courtesy of growing-underground.com

Phase one of the project is now reaching the final stage and it will be providing fresh produce for commercial supply in just a short number of weeks. This comes at the end of 18 months of research, growing trials and development of the sophisticated irrigation and lighting systems. The resultant produce is pesticide free and is produced with the least amount of energy expenditure possible, with up to 70% less water usage than open field farming according to the owners.

These energy savings are not the only positive in terms of environmental benefits as the location itself will greatly reduce any transport required. Immediate plans are to provide produce to local restaurants through market distributors but in time direct selling to the public is envisaged. The farm is also a wonderful example of resource efficiency, bringing a new enterprise to an otherwise abandoned space. The space, by virtue of its location 12 storeys underground, provides enough insulation to enable growth of crops for the entire year, independent of seasonal conditions.  On a long term lease from Transport for London, the project is a positive example of what a public and private partnership can do.

08 07 15 Underground Farm 2

The supply of food and food security are increasing global concerns and with city populations on the rise, urban farming is establishing itself as an alternative to large scale production and transport. Innovation in food production and utilisation of what may have otherwise been forgotten resources are one way to make our modern cities more resilient. London’s new green economy may be quite literally under your feet.