Produce grown from the ground up. That’s how farms began. Then greenhouses. Monoculture. Then came the urban farm. Then it went to rooftops, migrating to the open space available high in the sky. Farming’s next frontier? Going underground.
Under the London Underground a subterranean urban farm is emerging, challenging our conventional understanding of growing food. The 2.5 acre farm is a project of two entrepreneurs, Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, teaming up with Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr and launching Zero Carbon Food. Using the extensive tunnel network below London’s Northern Line, they will grow a range of micro-herbs, shoots, miniature vegetables, and edible flowers. Eventually there will be heirloom tomatoes and mushrooms.
In a city like London, where space is hard to come by, going underground makes for a whole new frontier of local farming.
But wait, how do you grow plants underground?
Hydroponics and LED lights of course, which gives the farm a bit of a laboratory with a blacklight feel as opposed to our regular visions of an outdoor farm. But that won’t stop the greens from growing.
The tunnel network was of course never intended for a farm – they were originally used to house people sheltering from air raids in World War II – but Ballard and Dring have spent two years developing the concept and system, mostly as a way to think about how to achieve a carbon-free economy and deal with the problem of space posed by urban population growth.
Sounds a little space age and moderately nuts to you? You’re not alone.
“When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy,” said Roux Jr. in a press release, “but when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away. The market for this produce is huge.”
That market includes not only local restaurants, but the nearby New Covent Garden, bringing new meaning to the phrase “eat local” in London.
Full scale farming begins in March and you’ll be able to find the first “Growing Underground” produce come summer.
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Images: Zero Carbon Food