Would you expect to find a 2,5 acres farm in Clapham, London? You probably wouldn’t, unless you are eager to plunge 12 stories underground to visit the subterranean farm in an extensive tunnel network beneath London’s Northern Line.
Entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring have teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr to create a working farm that will produce a range of micro-herbs, shoots, miniature vegetables and other delicacies that will be sold to restaurants, supermarkets and wholesalers.
Specially- designed carbon neutral structures that house the three-layer growing platforms are currently being constructed in Yorkshire. Growing trials have been conducted over the last 18 months in the tunnels and are still underway.
The project features special low energy LED bulbs and an integrated hydroponics system. One hundred feet of earth above the tunnels keep temperatures steady at around 16 degrees centigrade all year round and energy consumption at a minimum. Any energy needs will be extracted from green suppliers and the proximity of the tunnels to New Covent Garden market and London’s many restaurants will keep food miles to a minimum.
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“When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy,” said Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr, “but when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away. The market for this produce is huge”.
Richard Ballard and Steven Dring hatched the idea two years ago after lengthy debates about how to achieve a carbon-free economy and how to deal with the pressures of urban population growth. Chris Nelson, an expert horticulturalist used to growing crops in some of the harshest conditions on the planet, is a core member of the team.
The crowdfunding campaign, complete with a video that shows the tunnels. Investors can get a stake in Growing Underground today for as little as £10. For £25,000, investors will get voting rights. A full business plan with projections can be found on the site.
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Full scale work on the farm will commence in March and the first ‘Growing Underground’ produce will hit restaurants and shops by late summer this year. Initial crops will include a range of exotic herbs and shoots, including Pea Shoots, Rocket, Red Amaranth, Mizuna, Broccoli, Garlic Chives, Red Vein Sorrel, Mustard Leaf, Radish, Coriander and Thai Basil. Edible flowers and miniature vegetables will also be grown. Stage two crops will include heritage tomato varieties, and mushrooms.
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Photos: courtesy of Growing Underground – Zero Carbon Food.