Can underground herb gardens boost Britain’s food security?

A hydroponic herb garden beneath the streets of Clapham could provide an agricultural model for Britain to save valuable resources and boost food security, London catering firm Vacherin has claimed.

The Growing Underground herb farm is buried in a World War 2 bomb shelter, 33 metres beneath Clapham, and uses LED lighting and mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil, to grow herbs and salad leaves.

The hydroponics system uses 70% less water than traditional open-field farming, and because all the nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system, there is zero agricultural run-off.

The system also saves space, produces a consistent yield and mitigates the effects of seasonal change on the crops. Conditions can be adapted as needed, so different crops can be produced in various parts of the world.

Researchers from the University of Bath and University of Loughborough have previously warned that Britain’s food supply is likely to become increasingly susceptible to global water shortages. In 2009, the British government set the target of doubling domestic food production by 2040 to reduce reliance on imports, which make up around 40% of food consumption.

Vacherin chefs, managers, and front of house staff recently visited the Growing Underground project as part of its Sustainability Focus Group training .

“Growing Underground provides a potential solution for British food security for herbs through hydroponics, or even a huge chunk of agriculture itself,” said Vacherin sustainability lead Anthony Kingsley.

“The agricultural and livestock industry is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter after the energy industry.”

The hydroponics system also drastically reduces emissions from food miles by growing the crops nearby to where they are consumed.

Vacherin said the technology could “potentially work anywhere, from old mines to abandoned subway tunnels, even under the desert”.

Vacherin’s Anthony Kingsley took home the prestigious Sustainability Professional of the Year award at edie’s recent Sustainability Leaders awards.

Brad Allen 

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