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  • Herbs and salad leaves grown in tunnels deep beneath the city
  • Food grown hydroponically under low energy LED lights
  • Subterranean farm has “zero effect on the environment”
  • Food picked, packed and delivered to market within hours

You’re a smart, well-informed person. When it comes to the environment, to finance, to current events and to people, you pride yourself on knowing what’s what. 

But none of us can stay on top of all the news, all of the time. So here at Open Knowledge we thought it would be a good idea to offer a series of snappy Cocktail Party Guides – 500 well-chosen words – to bring you up to speed on some of the most interesting and talked about topics of the day. 

To kick things off: subterranean farming. We hope what follows will come in handy the next time you're breezily chatting away at a party and someone turns to you, Martini in hand, and says… 

Cocktail partygoer: They’re growing food underground in London now, you know?

You: Yes, I heard. It’s a project called Growing Underground. They’re producing salad leaves and herbs in a disused bomb shelter 33 metres beneath Clapham, south London. 

There’s a series of old tunnels down there, covering about 2.5 acres. The food is grown hydroponically under special low energy LED lights. 

It’s the world’s first commercial subterranean farm, apparently. The company behind it, Zero Carbon Food, says it’s “a food revolution happening beneath your feet.”

Partygoer: Sounds gimmicky. What’s the matter with good old-fashioned above-ground farming? 

You: Well, global farming accounts for a large percentage of the world’s carbon emissions – perhaps a third by some estimates – and these guys pride themselves on being a carbon neutral company. 

Their hydroponic system – cultivating plants in a nutrient solution rather than in soil – uses 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming. There is no need for pesticides this far underground. And all of the farm’s equipment is powered by renewable energy. 

Plus, food miles account for a massive amount of wasted energy – but Growing Underground’s produce is for Londoners only and will travel no further than the city limits.

Partygoer: So what exactly are they growing down there? 

You: There’s coriander, rocket, watercress, pea shoots, radish. Some garlic chive and mustard leaf. Plus a few more exotic offerings such as Thai basil and Japanese Mizuna.

Partygoer: Taste any good?

You: Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr thinks so. He pops up on the Growing Underground website saying he is “blown away” by this initiative and thinks the produce is “magnificent”.

Partygoer: A few herbs and salad leaves... not exactly a “revolution”, is it? 

You: Perhaps not. It’s still early days. Maybe the folk at Zero Carbon Food are getting a little carried away.

But there’s no questioning their ambition. They say a stable subterranean farming environment means year-round production with consistent taste and pricing. They hope to soon be supplying restaurants and retailers across London. And there are plans to grow other produce, perhaps mushrooms and tomatoes, later…

At this point, dear Open Knowledge reader, you can pause, take a sip of your drink, and smile modestly. 

Congratulations, you have shown yourself to be a person of wide knowledge and good taste. 

Look out for more of our Cocktail Party Guides coming soon. Till then: Cheers!

Simon Bendle

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