It is probably the first time in Farmers Weekly’s long history that a reporter has been sent to Clapham Common in London to follow up a story about a farm, writes reporter Jake Davies.
But there I found myself descending 100ft beneath the cafes, bars and restaurants that line the streets of one of South London’s most desirable neighbourhoods.
I was visiting what could be described as the world’s most expensive allotment.
A £750,000 horticultural installation two miles from the centre of London in a bomb shelter built during the Second World War, hidden just off Clapham high street.
Underground farm facts
- Farm will initially grow pea shoots, several varieties of radish, mustard, coriander, red amaranth, celery, parsley and rocket
- The produce will be sold to the London restaurant market via Covent Garden market
- Expected yield will be about 2-4kg/m of space
- Crops take seven to 21 days to come to maturity depending on species and spec
- The plants are sown in one-day intervals so each day there is something to harvest
- The LED emits a broad-spectrum light and is 24 Watts
- Energy is sourced from renewable suppliers
The balmy June air soon turned cool as I descended in a creaky industrial lift, squeezed in next to Richard Ballard, one of the founders of Growing Underground.
It opened out into a sterile, almost spaceship-like space, with row-upon-row of veg suspended in water.
It was a truly surreal sight.
The idea came to him while studying film during a “mid-life crisis” – he was producing a movie about London’s hidden spaces and combined this with his interest in sustainable food production.
Mr Ballard argues that producing peas, radish and rocket underground makes sense.
The underground bunker is well insulated, meaning no need for heating, as is often the case with leafy veg above ground.
The subterranean crops require more lighting, but LEDs that supplement sunlight are increasingly common in horticulture.
Will it revolutionise farming?
Probably not alone, but it’s a smart operation that doesn’t feel like it simply relies on the gimmick of growing food underground.
It is certainly the first of its scale in a British city, and I have a feeling it will not be the last.