The sustainable local food scene may still be somewhat underground, but this urban farm takes that sentiment quite literally. London’s Growing Underground—an urban farm located 108 feet (33 meters) beneath the city’s surface—is about to start delivering its produce to (above ground) stores.
For the past 18 months, the mostly publicly funded project has been working to develop a viable subterranean farm, the vision of founders Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, and celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr.
According to Growing Underground’s horticultural director Chris Nelson, “the farm is currently using 550 square meters (1,805 square feet) to grow crops, planted in rows of trays along a single tunnel that yields between 1.5 to 3 kilos (about 3 to 7 pounds) per square meter every two weeks, depending on the crop,” reports CityLab. “The farm as it stands can thus produce between 1,650 and 3,300 kilos (about 3,500 to 7,000 pounds) of greens every month.”
Growing Underground’s labyrinthine “farm” relies on a sophisticated closed loop hydroponics system and low-energy LED lights. The hydroponics system reportedly requires 70 percent less water than above-ground field farming; and the underground farm doesn’t contribute to farm run-off, which can be damaging to ecosystems that neighbor traditional farms. It’s protected from weather issues, and the LED lights create a perpetual growing season, eliminating off-seasons for crops. There’s also no need for herbicides or pesticides since no pests or weeds are present in the farm.
But the biggest benefit of Growing Underground is perhaps in its viability. Located in a major city like London, the local food doesn’t have to be trucked in from rural areas, not only reducing fossil fuel use but delivering a fresher product to consumers. And with the potential for 7,000 pounds of healthy leafy green vegetables available each month, that’s a significant benefit to city residents.
Growing Underground says this isn’t a random experiment, either. There are numerous sites around the world where food could be grown underground, supplying large cities with fresh fruits and vegetables.
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“We’re fine-tuning some of the smaller details but basically ours is a model you could take to pretty much any brownfield site," says Nelson. "You could put it in old disused mines, you could put it in underground—anywhere in the world where you need to grow food.”
While it may not have the same appeal as plucking a ripe arugula leaf off the stem from a rooftop garden under a warm summer sun, the project does boast its share of uniquely inspiring benefits—and that’s most certainly something to chew on.
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Images via Growing Underground