Former WWII Bomb Shelter Now World’s First Underground Farm
It's probably the last place you would think of for growing food, but about 100 feet below London, the one-year old startup Growing Underground is producing what it calls "sustainable and mouth-wateringly fresh micro greens and salad." It's the world's first subterranean farm. The site, a bomb shelter during World War II, was abandoned for 70 years until entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring came along.
Once fully operational, it's estimated that the system will be able to produce between 11,000 and 44,000 pounds of produce each year. “The whole system runs automatically, with an environmental computer controlling the lighting, temperature, nutrients and air flow,” Steven Dring, co-founder of the parent company, Zero Carbon Food, told Bloomberg.
The company says, "using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology, our crops can be grown year-round in the perfect, pesticide-free environment that these forgotten tunnels provide." The company is currently growing radish and mustard leaf and also grows watercress, Thai basil, rocket, red vein sorrel, red amaranth, pea shoots, mizuna, micro rocket, garlic chive and coriander.
Growing Underground claims it is carbon neutral and is working on certification. And it touts a number of other environmental benefits. "Our hydroponics system uses 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming, and because all the nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system we run no risk of contributing to agricultural run-off," says Growing Underground. They've pledged that their produce will travel no further than the M25 motorway that encircles Greater London.
It’s already partnered with local food delivery company Farmdrop and is in discussions with Whole Foods, says Bloomberg. And thanks to a partnership with chef Michel Roux, Jr., the company is partnering with local restaurants to deliver farm-to-table produce in under four hours. "It’s great to be involved in this ambitious project, for which we have ambitious growth plans," says Roux. "Above all it’s fantastic to source produce so fresh in the heart of Britain’s largest city."
The project is just one of the many creative ways cities around the world are re-localizing agriculture. For cities with a vast underground network like London, subterranean farming makes sense. In the U.S., many cities are turning abandoned warehouses into indoor vertical farms. Sky Farms in Singapore has been heralded as “the world’s first low-carbon hydraulic driven urban vertical farm.” Mirai, a vertical farm in Japan, is producing up to 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. Newark, New Jersey will soon be home to the world’s largest indoor vertical farm, which is set to launch in November.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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