Underground herb farm surfaces to strengthen London’s food supplies

Garlic chives, wasabi mustard and salad rocket - produced in a former World War II bunker in Clapham - are ready to be delivered to nearby homes, as London's first underground herb farm officially opens full production services.

Growing Underground, the capital’s first subterranean farm, is now harvesting crops on a daily basis after months of fine-tuning state-of-the-art lighting, hydroponics and ventilation systems to offer Londoners the lowest possible ‘food miles’ for twenty different herbs.

“This is major milestone for us – and for the global urban farming movement,” Growing Underground’s co-founder Steven Dring said. “We have been working in our food mine for more than two years and we’re thrilled to be bringing our first commercial scale harvest to the surface as Spring arrives. We think Londoners will agree, when they taste our produce, that it has been worth the wait.”

Situated 100ft below Clapham Common in old sheltering tunnels used during the war, the farm is now offering the specially cultivated herbs to London homes through a delivery service with the Farmdrop website. The herbs will also be supplied to local markets and wholesalers.

Growing Underground, which has already caught the interest of London catering firm Vacherin, claims that consistent temperatures and the absence of pests has helped develop an ‘exceptional quality’ of produce.

“We’re hoping Londoners will support us by buying our produce,” co-founder Richard Ballard added.  “This is about sustainably feeding the city from within the city and contributing to our community through food, jobs and education.”

The farm has received praise from Michelin-starred chef and Growing Underground co-director Michel Roux Jr, who is planning to use the herbs at his Le Gavroche restaurant. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson claims that the start-up is helping London “lead the world in green business innovation”.

Defra degrees

Growing Underground’s production roll-out is an example of how innovation can help address the insecurities of Britain’s food supply, as the Government has set an ambitious target of doubling domestic food production by 2040. 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 order to reach this increased food production target and mitigate potential global water shortages (London currently ranks as the 15th highest water-stressed city), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has this week announced a new food and farming degree apprenticeship, aimed at boosting innovation in the food industry.

Food entrepreneurs can now combine degree level practice with on-the-job training under three new apprenticeships spearheaded by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink (NSAFD).

“Food and farming should be a top career destination for our young people, as prestigious as medicine, as fun and stimulating as the gaming industry and as cutting-edge as London’s Tech City,” Environment Secretary Liz Truss said.

“We are already seeing more skilled workers enter the industry – rising faster than other areas of manufacturing – and these new degree apprenticeship schemes will provide an even brighter future in an industry that generates billions of pounds for our growing economy.”

Last year, the Government set a target to treble the number of apprentices in the food and farming industry by 2020. In an exclusive article for edie, the chief sustainability officer of United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems, John Mandyck, wrote that technology will play an increasingly crucial role in boosting food innovation.

Matt Mace

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