At street level, there’s nothing special about this road in south-west London. But take a journey 33 metres underground, and you’ll see something quite remarkable.
Since 2015, farming company Growing Underground has been growing micro-herbs, including pea-shoots and mustard leaves, in a disused World War II air-raid shelter.
The farm, founded by Steven Dring and Richard Ballard, occupies nearly 1.2 miles of tunnels, which the duo lease from the capital’s Transport for London agency.
Mr Dring told Sky News: “We wanted to build something that is grown close to where it is consumed.
“Someone has basically built a big poly-tunnel for us here so all we had to do was add the lights and the LEDs.”
Image: Supply continuity and being close to clients give the small farm an edge
Mr Dring and Mr Ballard had originally looked in office buildings for their urban farm. But the tunnels provided a cheap, city-central location which, after six months of refurbishment, now provide an ideal growing environment.
The micro-herbs are grown using a hydroponic system that doesn’t use soil. The result is a micro-green that’s more consistent in shape and quality than its above-ground cousin. They can also be grown year-round.
Mr Dring said: “One of the benefits of being down here is that we are not affected by adverse weather or the winter months, so we get a lot more crops by growing in a controlled environment like this.
“I think we need to look at innovative ways and embracing agricultural technology and technology to help produce more food locally and in the UK.”
This continuity of supply, as well as their geographical proximity to clients, have given this small farm a competitive edge.
For the past year they have provided their greens to top London restaurants and food markets and they have just signed a new contract with a major high street retailer.
Image: Growing Underground grows micro-herbs, including pea-shoots and mustard leaves
Growing Underground’s success comes at a time when many other small, British farms are struggling.
Figures from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board indicate more than 1,000 small British farms have closed since 2013.
This led some food policy experts to warn of a looming crisis in the UK’s food supply, especially with post-Brexit trade deals yet to be agreed upon.
A new report by from the University of Sussex warned the government is “sleepwalking” into a post-Brexit future where food supply could be insecure, expensive and unsafe.
“The UK’s home production has been steadily declining,” the report’s author Tim Lang wrote.
“It’s like the rabbit caught in the headlights with no goals, no leadership, and eviscerated key ministries.”
Around one-third of the UK’s food is imported from the European Union and it’s from the EU that the UK derives its food policies, such as food and farming production standards.
But Ben Reynolds, from food lobby group Sustain, said Brexit discussions could herald a new beginning for the UK’s own food policies – if the right decisions are made.
“Government really needs to step up now,” Mr Reynolds told Sky News.
“We have this opportunity with Brexit, they have the responsibility.
“They can’t blame Europe, it’s going to be their responsibility.
“They need to sort it out in order to protect British farmers’ livelihoods and make sure consumers get good quality food.”
Source: Sky News