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westminster-bridge-at-sunset-london-uk-Thinkstock IakovKalinin/Thinkstock

Growing food in WWII air-raid shelters underground

A London-based company is growing food in a novel way 100 feet below ground and in what once were WWII air-raid shelters used by Londoners who I’m sure at the time respected the value of food, security and peace as Nazi pilots blasted the area.

A London-based company is growing food in a novel way deep under city streets.

The company is aptly named Growing Underground and it is located more-precisely in Clapham, a suburb of London, 100 feet below ground and housed in what once were WWII air-raid shelters used by Londoners who I’m sure at the time respected the value of food, security and peace as Nazi pilots blasted.

According to the company’s website, it grows about 16 or so types of leafy greens and herbs for sell to local restaurants and consumers on the top-side of town, advertising that its crops can go “From farm to fork in under four hours.”

It’s a tightly closed hydroponic system void of any natural light because the company wants no sunlight to hit the plants. The surgery-room-looking space uses LED lights tweaked specifically to a spectrum the company says is ideal for the plants’ photosynthesis in an effort to hit the top yields and quality for each crop. It’s a highly monitored ‘artificial’ growing environment, and data from it is being sent to and used by Cambridge University to come up with ways to improve the system’s energy efficiency.

The company touts “Welcome to the agricultural revolution.” But using hydroponics or LED lighting to grow plants is nothing radically new. But the location in which it is taking place is fascinating and so is the boutique way of farming in an urban area with little access to arable land.

The company, I imagine, could scale up the system to meet whatever increasing demand it might enjoy in the coming years, until it runs out of air-raid shelters. A building could be engineered to block out the sun, equipped with hydroponics and wired with LED lights. But why do that? Sunlight is the best (and freest) source of plant energy in the world if you have the land to harness it. Makes me appreciate better the quantity and quality of arable land we too often take for granted in the United States. And we might not know just how blessed we in the U.S. are that we’ve not needed to seek shelter underground to escape massive, malicious intent.

Farming is going through a new revolution, but not just under the streets of London. Farmers of all flavors, more than any period in before, are using new tools and innovative strategies to do more with less; if nothing else, that innovative drive is the one pure strain of DNA all good farmers share.

Whether that innovation takes place under the streets of London or on a 180-acre, sunlit, dirt field down the road, it should be admired. Good ideas pan out and bad ideas become balled-up piece of paper taking up space in the dark corner of history.

Growing Underground was pointed out to me early last year, and I’m glad it was. I don’t know of anyone farming under a city around here, but I do know farmers around here are doing extraordinary things in their fields to reach top quality and yields. If you know of someone doing such things (or if you are that someone), we’d appreciate hearing about it.

Good luck, take care and thanks for reading.

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