In a WWII underground air-raid shelter where London Underground trains rattle overhead, fragrant coriander leaves tip towards the pink glow of LED lightbulbs.
It is a vision of what farms could look like in the future.
Zero Carbon Farms grows herbs and salads in Clapham, south London, a densely populated area with no room for conventional farming. But 30 meters underground there is a kilometer of tunnel and technology has made farming a reality here.
Seven years after the first harvest, the company will soon double its acreage, responding to strong demand for pea shoots, arugula and watercress from major UK retailers such as Marks & Spencer and local restaurants.
Shoppers appreciate the freshness of the produce, which can make it onto a diner’s plate within two hours of being harvested, and their arrival in the city without causing emissions by air or a long journey.
“The future for this industry is very, very bright and I think the fundamental lynchpin will be the right application of the technology,” said Tommaso Vermeir, the farm’s head breeder.
Vertical farming, the term for producing crops in a series of stacked tiers, often in a controlled environment, is a fast-growing industry with billions of dollars being pumped into projects around the world.
It is seen as part of the solution to the food security challenge posed by population growth at a time when climate change and geopolitics threaten supplies.
But growing with artificial light is more energy-intensive than conventional farming, and the high cost of production has challenged vertical farms around the world.
“What makes this industry so exciting and challenging is that no one has really cracked it,” said Olivia O’Brien, Zero Carbon Farm’s business development director.
The farm’s underground location provides built-in insulation from the cold. The company has what it calls “virtual private wiring” that brings in energy from renewable sources.
Energy prices have skyrocketed this year, but Vermeir said an agreement with the business unit of supplier Octopus Energy gave him a better price than buying energy off the grid like other customers.
Farming here uses 70-90% less water and 95% less fertilizer than typical farming. Cultivation is faster all year round.
Zero Carbon Farms believes its strong credentials and years of experience will give it an advantage over the dozens of other vertical farm projects emerging in the UK, which will translate into higher returns from the new farm division.
Seeds are sown on carpet scraps, and although there is no soil on this farm, the workers wear a uniform that includes the classic farming accessory of wellies.
Cutting leaves from their stems with a giant knife, farm manager Riley Anderson, 27, one of the company’s 35 employees, said it’s not a typical London job.
“I didn’t want to work in an office. I wanted to do something different and this is definitely right for me,” he said.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/11/29/world-war-ii-air-raid-shelter-becomes-a-cutting-edge-underground-farm-17840184/ The WWII bomb shelter becomes a state-of-the-art underground farm