At first glance, the building housing the entrance to Growing Underground is pretty unassuming – situated between a nail salon and an Indian restaurant in South London. But, like an iceberg, its substance is below the surface. 33 metres below the surface, in a forgotten air raid shelter powered by 100% renewable electricity.
With no natural light, it’s not the most obvious place to be growing salad. Intrigued, we went along to meet Founder, Richard, and to see the farm for ourselves.
Food for the city from within the city
On entering the urban farm, our first impression was… pink. “You’ll get used to that” Richard told us. And sure enough, our brains quickly filtered out the pink, and it was only noticeable on the camera screens we were using.
The tunnel stretched out for 100 metres in front of us, with plants of all different colours and varieties stacked four high under the pink LED lights. Salad rocket, pea shoots, garlic chive, mustard seed, broccoli shoots and much more, all thriving in their underground environment.
What are the benefits of growing produce underground?
It turns out London’s tunnels are actually a perfect place to grow produce sustainably. Deep underground, the farm can maintain a steady temperature year-round, requiring no heating or cooling other than the heat emitted by the LED lamps. With a gentle balance of ventilation, they can create a consistent growing environment where plants thrive.
Not confined by nature, Growing Underground can also choose exactly when to have ‘daylight’, and how long for.
“Our daylight starts from late in the afternoon, and goes through the night into the morning” Richard explained. “This enables us to secure a cheaper price for our 100% renewable electricity, as we’re using it off peak.”
Typically, Growing Underground choose ‘daylight’ to be around 18 hours long, with 6 hours of darkness to allow the plants to rest; but they can extend the day length to tie in with growing timescales and objectives.
How else is Growing Underground sustainable?
The micro herbs are grown not with soil, but on recycled carpets. The seeds are sewn onto the growing mats and germinated in the dark before being brought into the farm.
There, they are placed below the pink growing lights and drip fed water and nutrients; a cocktail that is collected, cleaned and recirculated constantly. This method uses 70% less water than conventional agriculture.
“We also really passionate about keeping food local” said Richard “We wanted to reduce food miles by growing food for the city, from within the city, so London’s empty tunnel network was the perfect home.
“Our produce is distributed around the capital by Farm Drop and New Covent Garden Market. Not only does this keep our food miles very low, it also ensures an incredibly fresh product.”
Why 100% renewables and why Good Energy?
“We chose good Energy to be our electricity company as their values closely align with ours. We’re very passionate about a sustainable future with an energy source powered by renewable energy.” Richard said.
“Any business starting today needs to think about its sustainable and environmental credentials. It is just impossible to start a business without thinking about the future.”
We’re very passionate about a sustainable future with an energy source powered by renewable energy.
As a long term personal customer of Good Energy, Richard explained it was a natural choice to extend this to the business as it developed.
“I’ve found dealing with other utilities providers is like talking to a robot – there is no human behind the phone. Whereas when I phone up Good energy, there are real characters and I am talking to someone who actively cares about what my concerns are.”
Find out more about Growing Underground here.