Between the collection of sewer-clogging grease deposits to operate the world’s largest fat-fueled power station to the harnessing of Tube-generated waste heat that will hundreds of flats cozy during the winter months minus exorbitant utility bills, subterranean London has never been busier.

Now, a new scheme from Richard Ballard and Steven Dring's Zero Carbon Food startup is bringing fresh, locally produced, pesticide-free produce straight from the bowels of the British capital city up to the kitchens of locavore-minded Londoners.

Dubbed, appropriately, Growing Underground, this unique urban agriculture venture centers around the transformation of WWII-era air raid shelter located over 100 feet beneath the South West district of Clapham into a productive hydroponic mini-farm capable of producing a range of micro greens and herbs using low-energy LED growing technology and 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming. The greens will be picked and delivered — initially, Growing Underground will be dedicated to supplying the wholesale and restaurant market before going full-retail — within four short hours, never traveling outside of the M25 motorway that forms a ring around greater London.

But would you actually want to eat a tunnel-to-table salad made from watercress, pea shoots, and Thai Basil that’s been grown and harvested deep beneath the streets of London?

Although Ballard and Dring’s 2.5-acre hydroponic set-up is located directly beneath the bustling Northern Line — the same branch of the London Underground where the aforementioned waste heat recovery initiative is due to take place — the well-preserved, naturally cool (they remain at a constant 60 degrees F year-round) tunnels do not share air with the Tube so customers can remain rest-assured that their red vein sorrel will not taste like the sweat of a thousand harried commuters. Built in 1940 at the height of Blitz with the capacity to shelter as many as 8,000 anxious Londoners, the tunnels in question are currently owned by Transport for London and leased by Ballard and Dring.

Although work on the carbon-neutral farm is pretty much complete, deliveries of the produce isn’t set to begin later this summer — "There is no 'could', 'might' or 'maybe' about our underground farm. We will be up and running and will be supplying produce later this year," clarifies Ballard to the BBC, adding: "Integrating farming into the urban environment makes a huge amount of sense and we're delighted that we're going to make it a reality.”

In the meantime, Ballard and Dring have taken to online crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to raise £300,000 that would help fund the operation moving forward. In addition to leading British horticulturist Chris Nelson, celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr. has also joined the two entrepreneurs as a director of the fledgling company.

Roux Jr. tells the BBC: “I live in Clapham and I knew of these tunnels, I knew they were there all the time, but when I went down there for the first time I was blown away not only by their size but also the magnificent produce that's actually growing there now."

Adds Dring: "When we showed Michel our farm for the first time, he thought the rumble he could hear was my stomach. It was actually a Northern Line train about to go overhead."

Once things are up and running, Ballard and Dring plan to grow additional crops beyond nine initial salad greens and three herbs including mushrooms and tomatoes.

As for the current selection of greens, they’re already garnering rave reviews not from Roux Jr. but from food critics such as Samuel Muston who notes that the veggies and herbs “taste of the fields.”

He writes for the Independent:

The first thing to note about the peashoots, micro radish, and mustard redleaf grown four-stories underground is that they look exactly like their above-ground brethren. I suppose I was expecting them to look a little green about the gills, a little sickly. Yet here they are in front of me, plum and meaty. That was the first surprise. The second is the flavour. They taste vivid and vital. Everything, mercifully, is in the right place. No Frankenflavours here.

Lots more leafy green goodness including recipes over at the Growing Underground homepage.

Via [BBC], [The Independent]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

London air raid shelter houses carbon-neutral hydroponic farm
A hydroponic agriculture venture named Growing Underground is based in an air raid shelter 100 feet beneath the streets of London.