Numerous air raid bomb shelters were built under subway stations to protect thousands of London's citizens during the intense bombing by enemies during World War II. Since the end of the war, some of these massive, subterranean spaces have found other uses, including being converted into hydroponic farms by forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Launched by Richard Ballard and Steven Dring of Zero Carbon Food, Growing Underground is one such project and urban farm brand that has transformed one of these abandoned tunnels into a fully functioning hydroponic farm producing fresh greens.
Located in what is known as the Clapham North shelter, 100 feet below ground, the Growing Underground farm is part of a growing trend in urban agriculture worldwide in cities like New York, Montreal and more.
After obtaining USD $1.15 million in funding from crowdsourced and private investment, Zero Carbon Food bought the space back in 2014 with the intent of installing a hydroponic operation here. According to Bloomberg, the company's carbon-neutral farm can produce anywhere from 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) and 20,000 kilograms (40,000 pounds) of crops per year, depending on the species. The farm specializes in growing small salad greens with a short growth cycle like pea shoots, Thai basil, mizuna, coriander, mustard leaf, rocket, radish and garlic chive. In this carefully automated environment that uses energy-efficient LEDs, 70 percent less water and no pesticides, there are a lot of savings and profits to be had, with the company estimating that these crops can bring in an annual revenue of $2 million US.
Measuring about one hectare in size, the farm is touted to be the world's largest underground farm. It's about using available technologies to for efficient land use and to bring food production back into the hyper-local sphere, says Steven Dring, co-founder of Zero Carbon Food:
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.
This may be a business model we'll see replicated more and more: the company has already partnered with local restaurants in a farm-to-table scheme that would have fresh produce handpicked and delivered to customer's plates in about four hours. If that isn't local, we don't know what is. More over at Bloomberg and Growing Underground.