When you think of gardens and farms, you don’t necessarily think of an abandoned air raid shelter that is 100 feet under the streets of London. But that didn’t stop these 2 lifelong friends from trying. Richard Ballard and Steven Dring moved to London from the rural West Country of England. They had spent a lot of time in the family farm growing up, and when they moved to London, they found themselves constantly arguing at the pub about the future of the world in regards to oil, energy, and food. They started discussing the fact that the population of London is set to grow by 3,000,000 people within the next 10 years. This caused them to be a little concerned. Rather than just arguing about it at the pub though, they decided to actually do something about it. And just like that, Zero Carbon Foods (ZCF) was created.
Zero Carbon Foods (ZCF) decided to turn this old World War II Air Raid Shelter into their main growing location for their foods. When the original shelter was built, the government had plans to turn the tunnel into an Express Northern line tube, but the money was never raised and that was the end of that making the space available.
When the tunnel was purchased, it was a lot darker and a lot dirtier. But Zero Carbon Food has taken it upon themselves to clean this up.
Because the tunnel plans had fallen through and the war was now over, London had a very large labor shortage. They decided to use the tunnel for temporary housing as large groups from West India and the Caribbean were coming to the United Kingdom, promising them a lot of work. In June of 1948, 492 passengers arrived from Jamaica ready to work.
The migrant workers were able to find work near their temporary shelters, and they began to make South London home. The shelter is nearby the city of Brixton, and is now considered the heart of London’s Caribbean community.
This is what the tunnel entrance looked like in the 1940s.
And here is the tunnel entrance now.
This is the tunnel itself, but this was before Zero Carbon Foods utilized the entire space. You can see how dark it really was.
So why exactly did Zero Carbon Foods decide this was the place for their new underground farming venture? Well, there isn’t a lot of space in London for urban farming, especially on the scale that the brothers, Dring and Ballard, wanted to do. Also, imagine the cost of rent for somewhere that is 2 1/2 acres in London. Going underground definitely cut down on the overall overhead. This tunnel also stays around 60 degrees all year, so the heating and cooling of this was pretty minimal. But that wasn’t even what really sold them on this spot. Because there is not any natural light, they use LED lights which are powered by renewable energy. In the case of broccoli, pea shoots, basil, and mustard leaf along with other greens, they can grow them without using pesticides because there are no airborne pests when you’re 100 feet down.
They launched their first brand called Growing Underground in March 2014. They are now offering their produce in supermarkets and restaurants in London. They also brought on Chef Michel Roux Jr as director of their company.
This is certainly eco-farming at its finest.
Imagine if all big cities decided to take this route when it came to abandoned buildings, tunnels, and more.
Not only would it cut down on the carbon footprint of that city, but it would provide locally grown, pesticide free food options for the residents.
They recently started a crowd-funding campaign, where they raised more than needed. Check out the video below to see even more behind the scenes footage of what this team has done!
More Info: Growing Underground
It really is amazing what two guys from the small countryside of England could do with a big idea, and concerns about the environment around them. This could make a huge impact on the future of our precious eco system.