ABOUT 33 METERS (108 FEET) UNDER the busy streets of Clapham in southwest London, United Kingdom, lies one of the most unexpected places for a farm.
Instead of growing crops in open fields, a British
company, called Growing Underground, is using
abandoned World War II bomb shelters to grow
herbs and micro-greens with only nutrient-rich
water and artificial-light sources.
This seemingly odd way of growing fruits and
vegetables could mean that food will not need to
be refrigerated and transported long distances
and farmers can reduce their use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Food grown in Clapham’s
underground farm is kept at stable temperatures
and is available year-round. As this food is grown
for the surrounding community, it can be picked,
packed, and delivered to a store or a market
within 2 to 8 hours; there is no need to ship and
store produce for weeks to get it to its final destination. Is this the future of farming?
The Clapham project is an example of a vertical
farm. In these types of farms, food is grown
indoors, usually in buildings or skyscrapers, in
vertically stacked layers. As crops are stacked
on top of each other, the productivity of a farmed
surface is increased by a factor of four to six.
Instead of using irrigation to grow crops in
open fields, plants are grown hydroponically in
greenhouse skyscrapers that are located in urban
areas. Hydroponics is the process of growing
plants without soil by using nutrient-rich solutions to feed the plants. It uses 70% less water
than open-field agriculture.
Plants can also be grown through a process
called aeroponics, in which the plants’ roots are
suspended in the air, and nutrients are sprayed
directly to the root structures in a fine mist. This
process uses 70% less water than hydroponics,
saving even more water.
By David Latchman
An underground farm under
the busy streets of London
uses abandoned World War
II tunnels to grow a variety
of vegetables, such as
watercress, radish, garlic
chives, and coriander.
8 ChemMatters | OC TOBER/NOVEMBER 2016 www.acs.org/chemmatters
STA C K