During World War II, the Nazi regime set out to destroy Britain, unleashing barrage after barrage of bombs on London and surrounding cities. How do you protect a large civilian population from such an onslaught? You build bomb shelter tunnels 100 feet below the ground.
During 1944, subterranean bomb shelters provided protection for London’s besieged citizens. They were equipped with kitchens, medical facilities, bathrooms and bunk beds. 12 stories below ground, the tunnels provided sanctuary for as many as 8,000 people.
The war ended, Europe slowly recovered and rebuilt, and London’s underground bomb shelters were forgotten. Until now.
The seeds of “Growing Underground” were sown three years ago. Founders Steven Dring and Richard Ballard were looking for a way to offer a steady supply of fresh, healthy produce to a rapidly growing urban population. Co-founder Richard Ballard was particularly motivated by his concern for sustaining urban centers. Cities like London, for instance, offer no farmland – yet a growing population requires food. While scouting locations for a movie production, they stumbled upon the long-abandoned Clapham bunker. They met with the owners of the tunnels—London’s TFL transportation agency—and received an invitation to move forward with their project.
“Growing Underground,” an urban, subterranean farm, could not have come at a better time. Unfavorable weather conditions resulted in a very poor harvest that year throughout southern Europe. Vegetables were being rationed in UK grocery stores. The fact that the tunnels would provide an environment in which produce could be grown year-round – as well as delivered to consumers within 8 hours of harvest – was very good news for London’s consumer base.
The bomb shelter was constructed 100 feet below the surface. At that depth, temperatures remain at a steady 16C. This allows crops to grow year round with no temperature fluctuations to deal with, no issues of drought or extreme cold. The rooms are sealed, and a special bespoke filtration system is employed to provide optimum protection against disease. LED lighting, powered by green energy, replaces sunlight.
Currently, the farm produces herbs, radishes, mustard greens, lettuce, coriander, pea shoots, celery, parsley, and rocket. The vegetables are grown using a hydroponic system – meaning without soil – as seeds are planted in trays placed on hemp. Water which seeps into the tunnels naturally is collected, purified and used to irrigate the farm.
The mission of the farm is to grow produce with zero impact on the environment, utilizing only green technologies. It is the world’s first underground farm, only a short distance from the center of the London metropolis. Long-range plans are to develop the tunnels into 2.5 acres of cultivated farming along, handled by a small business manned by a handful of people. Initial customers are restaurants and fresh produce suppliers. Once this channel operates smoothly, they plan on making the farm’s produce available to individual consumers via a designated internet outlet.