Underground farm built in abandoned
tunnels beneath London


News: two British entrepreneurs are constructing a hydroponic farm in a network of tunnels under south London that could supply local restaurants and retailers with fresh herbs and vegetables.

Richard Ballard and Steven Dring's Growing Underground project is located in tunnels beneath the London Underground's Northern Line that were originally built as air-raid shelters during the Second World War.

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London

Intent on demonstrating that it is possible to operate a commercial urban farm with a minimal carbon footprint, the entrepreneurs plan to transform 2.5 hectares of the disused air-raid shelter into growing space that will supply produce to London businesses, reducing the amount of food miles "from farm to floor".

Ballard and Dring collaborated with horticulturalist Chris Nelson to develop a hydroponic system that makes the most of conditions in the tunnels and enables them to grow a variety of micro herbs, shoots, miniature vegetables and other foods.

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London

The hydroponic farming method involves growing plants in a mineral-rich solution on specially constructed growing platforms under controlled temperature and lighting conditions.

The farm's subterranean location means that the farmers don't need to worry about pests and diseases, or Britain's unpredictable weather.

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London

After spending the past 18 months conducting growing trials in the tunnels, the entrepreneurs have launched a crowdfunding campaign that aims to raise £300,000 to support the business' expansion.

"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," said Richard Ballard. "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."

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London

The farm's carbon neutral credentials are achieved by utilising low energy LED grow lights, locally sourced green energy, a recirculating water system and the 33 metres of earth above the tunnels, which helps maintain a consistent temperature.

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London
Growing Underground founders Richard Ballard and Steven Dring

Growing Underground has received backing from celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr, who lives close to the farm's entrance near Clapham North station.

"When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy," said 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."

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London
The disused underground air-raid shelter before refurbishment

The first crops grown at the farm will include pea shoots, rocket, mizuna, broccoli, red vein sorrel, garlic chives and mustard leaf, as well as edible flowers and miniature vegetables. Following further development it will become possible to grow crops including mushrooms and heritage tomato varieties.

Full-scale farming is set to commence in March, with the first produce expected to be available in late summer.

Underground farm built in tunnels 12 storeys beneath London
The tunnels will provide 2.5 acres of growing space

Meanwhile plans are have recently been unveiled in Paris to convert the city's disused Metro stations into swimming pools, theatres and galleries.

  • G

    Isn’t the point of hydroponics that one can grow produce pretty much anywhere? Seems like a waste of an interesting architectural space.

  • Donny

    London people need to get out into the country more. However, I live there. So maybe not. Good on these guys. I think it’s an interesting idea but does vividly display the dichotomy between London and the rest of the UK. Just my own thoughts.

  • headgirlblues

    I’m all for anyone doing anything to use space for something interesting and forward thinking. We need more plant-based projects in London to learn how to utilise unlikely spaces to grow food.

  • johannes renken

    Sunlight in the non-underground world comes pretty much for free. The energy consumption by the UV-lights exceeds the energy savings for transport by factor 10 to 50. These guys should know that. This has nothing to do with carbon saving but a lot with getting money (£300,000). I am actually angry about this idea.

  • Tom James

    Where does the energy come from? Are the resources saved by not transporting the produce negated by the electricity to power the hydroponic lamps? Why bother growing local food if you’re going to wrap it in plastic (box and film) that you can only down-cycle?

    As ever, green posturing for what is essentially business as usual.

  • Massimo

    Just another way for Londoners to feel themselves “green” or ” bio”. Pathetic!

  • Bobby D

    Let’s use renewable energy to power LED’s to grow things underground? Good one.

  • Ellen

    Rooftop gardens eat your hear out!

  • Concerned Citizen

    “The farm’s subterranean location means that the farmers don’t need to worry about pests and diseases, or Britain’s unpredictable weather.”

    Really? No rats or bats (including faeces) in the underground?

    Weather in most countries is accommodated by greenhouses, especially for growing hydroponically.

    Didn’t Dezeen run an article about a year ago featuring aqua gardening on an abandoned shipping dock? That guy was more creative, in that he created a self-contained system, except for the occasional bumping up of nutrients.

    Besides all that, how secure is this space underground?

    “Why bother growing local food if you’re going to wrap it in plastic (box and film) that you can only down-cycle?” This food will also be packaged in plastic. So, what’s your point?

  • Stephen

    Let’s presume: what these guys really long for is to get out the city and into the country, but lack the courage to leave the (un)coolset behind and be real men. Let’s predict: success or failure, this venture will make anyone putting the needed hours in down there very sick.