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Elham AbolFateh

Science & Technology

On rooftops and in tunnels، city farms lead food revolution

Monday 11/February/2019 - 09:00 PM
Sada El Balad
The Guardian
Only the Northern line tube trains rumbling through tunnels overhead provide any clue that Growing Underground is not a standard farm.

The rows of fennel، purple radish and wasabi shoots could be in almost any polytunnel، but these plants are 100 feet below Clapham High Street and show that urban agriculture is، in some cases at least، not a fad.

The underground farm has occupied a section of the second world war air-raid shelters for nearly five years، and Richard Ballard، one of the founders، is planning to expand into the rest of the space later this year.

“The UK is the hardest market for growing salad،” he said. “We’ve got very low prices in the supermarket، so if we can make it work here we can make it work anywhere.”
The Growing Underground experience is being highlighted at two exhibitions this year: Roca London Gallery’s investigation into “agritecture”، London 2026، which opened on Saturday، and the V&A’s Food: Bigger Than the Plate in May، which will also showcase micro-farming methods such as Grocycle’s hanging mushroom bags.
Urban commercial farming – as opposed to Britain’s 330،000 allotments – is a regular topic of interest at places like the World Economic Forum in Davos، where policymakers consider whether the world’s food system، blamed for causing both obesity and malnutrition، can be fixed.
There are already plenty of urban farming projects around the world، particularly in the US، Japan and the Netherlands، ranging from aquaponics – urban fish and plant farms – to vertical farming، where plants are grown in stacked trays، a method Growing Underground also uses.
“It’s definitely becoming an expanding industry،” Ballard said. “There’s several other businesses starting up in London in containers، smaller projects، and there are several around the country now، other vertical farms.”
Growing Underground supplies herb and salad mixes – pea shoots، garlic chives، coriander، rocket، red mustard، basil and parsley – to Marks & Spencer، Waitrose، Ocado، Whole Foods and Planet Organic، as well as restaurateurs including Michel Roux. Being in London creates an advantage، Ballard says، as they can harvest and deliver in an hour.

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