In tunnels originally designed to protect Londoners from the onslaught of German bombs during World War II, two food entrepreneurs concocted a plan to breathe life into a dark piece of history – literally.
Pea shoots, radishes, mustard, celery, parsley, rocket, and countless other kinds of edible plants are now growing beneath London in the first ever underground urban farm, reported The Telegraph. The project was started by business partners Steven Dring and Richard Ballard through their firm Zero Carbon Food, a company “… that aims to benefit Londoners, businesses, society, and the environment as a whole,” according to its website.
Two-star Michelin chef Michael Roux Jr. heard of the project and decided to go for a visit, the Guardian reported.
“I thought they were absolutely crazy but when I visited the tunnels and sampled the produce they are already growing down there I was blown away. The market for this produce is huge,” he said.
In June, Mr. Ballard told The Telegraph the farm would soon begin selling to commercial buyers:
“Our first shoots will be delivered to the surface in the next few weeks. After eighteen months of research, development, growing trials – and tribulations – we’re about to start supplying into the market.”
One of the project’s biggest initiatives is in green energy. The plants are grown using LED lights and a hydroponics system – a growing process that utilizes sand, gravel, or liquid with added nutrients instead of soil – that uses 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming, according to the “Growing Underground” website.
The website also describes the project’s goal of reducing “food miles” between retailers and consumers – a distance that is usually vast in a city like London.
Urban farming isn’t a new concept. In Detroit, “Food Field” is spread over four acres of an abandoned school site and provides organic produce to the surrounding community. In the South End of Boston, 140 gardeners contribute to the Berkeley Community Garden. Members of the public are free to stroll through the garden seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. The Five Borough Farm is a project of the Design Trust for Public Space located in New York City. The project is divided into phases, each addressing different concerns of local farmers, gardeners, stakeholders, and city officials and working to foster greater understanding of urban agriculture.
Other groups have ventured into the commercial sector, as Growing Underground seems poised to do. Good Eggs, an online farmers market with locations in several major US cities, pools together the marketing and distribution needs of the urban farmer and offers free home delivery for its customers in an effort to combat the convenience of the supermarket.
Good Eggs co-founder and CEO Rob Spiro told citiscope.org, “If you’re less convenient than the supermarket, even if the food is better and better for the world, it’s going to be really hard to reach a mainstream audience.”