Growing Underground – The Festive Spirit of Giving

Growing Underground - Zero Carbon Food

Guess what’s growing under London? Day Four of our Festive Spirit of Giving and we thought we would share news of this exciting project in London.

Two entrepreneurs, Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, have teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr to create a working farm in an extensive tunnel network beneath London’s Northern Line.

The subterranean farm will produce a range of micro-herbs, shoots, miniature vegetables and other delicacies that will be sold to restaurants, supermarkets and wholesalers.  The tunnels will provide 2.5 acres of growing space.

The tunnels sit beneath the Northern Line near Clapham North tube station.

The farm will be carbon neutral.  Special low energy LED bulbs and an integrated hydroponics system are used.  One hundred feet of earth above the tunnels keep temperatures steady at around 16 degrees centigrade all year round and energy consumption at a minimum.  Any energy needs will be extracted from green suppliers and the proximity of the tunnels to New Covent Garden market and London’s many restaurants will keep food miles to a minimum.

Richard Ballard and Steven Dring hatched the idea two years ago after lengthy debates about how to achieve a carbon-free economy and how to deal with the pressures of urban population growth.  Since then they have been working out how to bring their vision to reality.  Chris Nelson, an expert horticulturalist used to growing crops in some of the harshest conditions on the planet, is a core member of the team.

The tunnels were originally used to house people sheltering from air raids in World War II.  All fittings and reminders of its past were removed decades ago, although a nearby tunnel network, which retains bunk beds, has been listed by English Heritage.

Initial crops will include a range of exotic herbs and shoots, including Pea Shoots, Rocket, Red Amaranth, Mizuna, Broccoli, Garlic Chives, Red Vein Sorrel, Mustard Leaf, Radish, Coriander and Thai Basil.  Edible flowers and miniature vegetables will also be grown.  Stage two crops will include heritage tomato varieties, and mushrooms. Special filters keep the air in the tunnels free of pests, eliminating the need for pesticides.

2014 saw the launch of the crowdfunding campaign, complete with a video that shows the tunnels. Investors could get a stake in Growing Underground today for as little as £10.  The campaign is now closed but the video beautifully shows this unique growing location.

A brief history of the Clapham North tunnels
Work began on the shelter tunnels on November 27th 1940 and was completed in 1942.  The arrival of flying bombs prompted the Government to open the shelters to the public.  Clapham North opened on July 13th 1944 and was equipped with bunks, medical posts, kitchens and sanitation and had capacity to accommodate up to 8,000 people.  The highest recorded nightly population of the London-wide shelter network was 12,297 on July 24 1944, about one third of total capacity. The last air-raid warning of the war was sounded on March 28th 1945 (the European war ended on May 8th), but about 12,000 homeless people continued to sleep underground until May.

More information can be found at the Growing Underground website.

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