London Wartime Bunkers Offer Essential Vertical Farm Space

The project provides Londoners with fresh produce from deep below the city's streets.
Chris Young
Growing UndergroundCambridge University/YouTube

Far below London's busy Clapham High Street, an enormous underground garden grows hundreds of thousands of the capital's fresh greens.

Since 2015, London-based Growing Underground has been using one of London's eight underground World War Two bomb shelters to grow fresh produce indoors in an environment where no pesticide is required.

The project is part of a growing indoor and vertical farming trend that grows more food per square meter than traditional farming in order to meet the increasing food demand of a global population that is due to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, according to statistics from the United Nations.

Founded by entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, Growing Underground was opened as the "world's first subterranean farm."

The facility makes use of what would otherwise be an abandoned space 33 meters (108 feet) below ground level to bring Londoners fresh greens at record speed.

Vertical farming vital for future food production

Using 100 percent renewable energy, Growing Underground grows its produce via hydroponics — a soil-free cultivation technique — as well as LED heating. The project has partnerships with UK supermarket giant Marks & Spencer, Whole Foods and also supplies Michelin starred restaurants with their microgreen salads.

A recent report by Forbes stated that the vast increase in the global population over the coming decades means that food production will need to rise by 70 percent in the next 30 years.

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Vertical farming projects are set to play a crucial role in reaching this goal — other large projects include Nordic Harvest's massive indoor vertical farm, and Vertical Harvest's affordable housing and vertical farm project.

Not only is vertical farming better suited to optimizing the space used for farming, but it also removes the need for deforestation, which is exacerbating the climate crisis and increasing the risk of pandemics.

As per EuroNews, other benefits include the fact that herbs such as coriander are typically sourced from warmer climates, meaning airmiles for supermarkets that would otherwise import such goods are reduced. 

Next, Growing Underground would like to open a companion supplier in the suburbs of London. Its founders hope their work has inspired others and that we will soon see similar vertical farming centers in most cities worldwide.

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