From IFLS comes an exciting update on history’s fully underground farming site:
Located 33 meters (108 feet) beneath the Clapham area [of London], the farm – called Growing Underground –consists of a sealed room fitted with sophisticated hydroponic systems, which allow the growth of plants without soil, a customized ventilation system and low-energy LEDs for lighting. Because the irrigation system is closed-loop, whereby the 18 cubic meters of nutrient-rich water necessary for crop growth are recycled on site, the company claims to require 70% less water than traditional open-field farming. Furthermore, this has the added benefit of zero run-off, which can cause problems for ecosystems surrounding farmland.
There are a whole host of other benefits to this style of farming, too: The crops are not subjected to unpredictable weather, there are no seasons so production can continue year-round, and the complete lack of pests and weeds means the plants don’t need to be drenched in chemicals. And by supplying to local buyers, the produce doesn’t need to travel far, slashing food miles and therefore further energy demands. Ultimately, the company hopes to become carbon neutral.
Spearheaded by two entrepreneurs, Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, as well as celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr., the subterranean site is the culmination of 18 months of research and development. Most of its £1 million ($1.58 million) budget came from British taxpayers.
As the article points out, urban farms are not a new concept, and they have in fact caught on in recent years amid concerns about conservation and efficient use of declining resources (including space). But Growing Underground presents a huge departure from rooftop farms or massive greenhouses, allowing us to efficiently utilize what would otherwise be dead space (in this case an abandoned World War II bomb shelter).
Vertical farms, which are also of increasing interest, work in a similar fashion: the idea is to crame vast amounts of crops into small areas, which saves space, energy, and transportation costs along the way. As urbanization continues at a rapid pace around the world, clever farming methods like these are a great way to provide fresh food in an accessible and efficient way. While the fruits (and vegetables) of this effort will be expensive for now, it is definitely a step in the right direction — if not an inevitable one.