Good Thinking

Growing Underground farms greens in forgotten tunnels below London

Growing Underground aims to produce fresh produce with zero effect on the environment
Growing Underground aims to produce fresh produce with zero effect on the environment
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Growing Underground aims to produce fresh produce with zero effect on the environment
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Growing Underground aims to produce fresh produce with zero effect on the environment
Growing Underground employs a hydroponics system that uses 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming
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Growing Underground employs a hydroponics system that uses 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming
Growing Underground employs low energy lighting and irrigation systems
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Growing Underground employs low energy lighting and irrigation systems
Growing Underground farms in tunnels 33 m (108 ft) below the streets of London
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Growing Underground farms in tunnels 33 m (108 ft) below the streets of London
The tunnels were previously used as bomb shelters for Londoners during World War II
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The tunnels were previously used as bomb shelters for Londoners during World War II

The "world’s first underground urban farm" is set to start selling herbs and salads grown 33 m (108 ft) below the streets of London. Growing Underground is based in disused World War II tunnels. At less than two miles from the city-center, it promises farm-to-fork produce in less than four hours.

Growing Underground is the brainchild of West Country entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring and has been developed in partnership with Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. It was conceived as a means of producing local and environmentally-friendly high-quality produce, with the disused tunnels providing the ideal location.

The tunnels are located below London's Northern Line underground rail link in the Clapham area of the city and were previously used as a bomb shelter for residents. The site currently being used was able to accommodate 8,000 people when needed. Now it provides a steady and controllable environment for Ballard and Dring to grow their crops.

The location allows for all year round urban farming, as it's unaffected by weather and seasonal changes. It is a pesticide-free environment and the hydroponics system employed is said to use 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming. Likewise, the lighting and irrigation systems mean the crops can be grown with very little energy. What energy is used is sourced only from green suppliers.

Growing Underground employs low energy lighting and irrigation systems
Growing Underground employs low energy lighting and irrigation systems

Ultimately, Ballard and Dring's aim is to deliver fresh produce with zero effect on the environment. The first phase of the farm is coming to the final stages of preparation for commercial supply and the crops being produced include pea shoots, several varieties of radish, mustard, coriander, red amaranth, celery, parsley and rocket.

Delivery of the first supplies to a Covent Garden wholesaler are expected within weeks and there are plans for a direct-to-consumer offer to follow. In addition, a neighboring set of tunnels provides an opportunity for expansion further down the line.

Source: Growing Underground

7 comments
Freyr Gunnar
> Likewise, the lighting and irrigation systems mean the crops can be grown with very little energy. Still more than the free energy given to us by the sun. > What energy is used is sourced only from green suppliers. What are those green supplies? If the electricity comes from either wind turbines or solar panels, it's anything but green.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Would expect to see some light pipes. Might cost more than electric, though.
Artūrs Pupausis
"Still more than the free energy given to us by the sun." Well may not be true, because lot of energy is needed to transport products from farms to consumer. Great to see this types of farms. That is how we could see self-efficient city.
Don Duncan
There are a lot of variables in an efficiency study on this new commercial venture. I doubt all were taken into account. No matter. The free market will give us the answer over time. Interesting experiment.
Stephen N Russell
Must for subways etc worldwide alone. Who else will? Huge implications
Jayna Sheats
This approach should, if done carefully, be more efficient with respect to sunlight-to-glucose transformation than the "natural" version. The amount of the solar spectrum covered by chlorophyll is very small, while good PV panels can convert it with 25% efficiency (more for more expensive panels). With >50% conversion efficiency of electricity to light which is totally within the absorption spectrum of the plants, it would be more efficient. Of course transportation and storage of the energy has to be considered also. Nevertheless this is far from being implausible as the best way to grow food.
mleeds
I want to address the other commenters more than the author of the article. The only way to avoid consuming any resources is to grow plants outdoors naturally, without any additional lighting, water, etc. That is not feasible in many, if not most, locations. Thus, food requires resources: be it transportation costs to get it to your location from somewhere where it does grow naturally or costs of artificial lighting, etc to grow it indoors in an area where it can not be grown naturally outdoors (at least not in all seasons). Given that supplying food consumes resources, it is definitely possible to minimize resource consumption and it sounds like that is exactly what Growing Underground is doing. From the photos it is clear they are using LED grow lights, which are much more energy efficient than other types of lights for a variety of reasons I won't go into here, but you can read about yourself if you like: http://growlightcentral.com/blogs/news/23692545-led-vs-hps-grow-lights I'm sure I could find a better article if I spent more time searching, but that one covers the basics. The only thing I'd add is that LED plant lights also require much less, if any, cooling than HPS lights, so you save a lot more on power by not needing any additional cooling equipment. I think Growing Underground is a great idea and would like to see similar initiatives adopted all over the world. It may even be the best solution to combating global hunger. So instead of making negative comments about the drawbacks of this idea (there are always going to be drawbacks), maybe the other commenters would be better served coming up with a solution to those drawbacks or, even better, a better alternative idea of their own.