Go Inside London's First Underground Farm

Microsoft technology is empowering sustainable food solutions.
Presented byPresented by Microsoft
Oct 16, 2015·
Taylor Orci is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on NPR and Slate.com and in New York Magazine and The Atlantic.

Despite the general lament that cities are crowded and lack green space, they are also filled with the opposite: Abandoned structures that once fulfilled a vital purpose now lie quiet and empty, slowly crumbling into states of disrepair in cities around the world. Wouldn't it be wonderful to retrofit these structures for modern needs, retaining the history of a city while upcycling materials at the same time? The company Growing Underground has done just that.

Growing Underground has taken a WWII bomb shelter in London and transformed it into a farm 33 meters (roughly 108 feet) below the ground, creating what might be the world's first successful underground farm. The result is mouthwateringly fresh microgreens and herbs that are particularly efficient in every aspect the modern consumer cares about. For one, providing a farm in the middle of a metropolitan area eliminates the carbon footprint of transport (Growing Underground is also working on its carbon neutral certification). Additionally, Growing Underground uses a next-level type of farming technology to use resources more efficiently. Trays of plants are layered on top of one another in a nutrient-rich soil-less growing medium called multilayer hydroponics, or vertical farming. This vertical farming system uses 70 percent less water than traditional farming, which is a potential boon to cash-strapped farmers in an era of climate change.

Additionally, using readily available structures reduces resource use, and having them underground puts less strain on urban congestion. When vertical garden visionaries such as Dickson Despommier describe vertical gardens, grand towers of greens come to mind. And while the image of futuristic buildings filled with growing produce right in the heart of Chicago or New York or Madrid sounds visually appealing, the costs to build and retrofit these buildings are prohibitive. Taking a structure that was once designed to endure the chaos of war and repurposing it for nourishment has a poetic quality that also make sense cost-wise.

In 2012, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that nearly one in eight people in the world is suffering from undernourishment. With the help of organizations like Growing Underground, hopefully one day hunger will be, akin to London's underground bomb shelters, a thing of the past.