We recently went to visit salad farming start-up and suppliers to Jardin Blanc at RHS Chelsea Flower Show: Growing Underground.
Growing Underground grow fresh (and mouth-wateringly tasty) micro greens and salad leaves using almost completely sustainable practices. The farm is based underground in a series of World War II –built tunnels – used as bomb shelters during this time – that sit 33 meters below the streets of Clapham.
Using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology, their crops are grown all year-round in a pesticide-free environment. The hydroponics* system uses 70% less water than traditional open-field farming and ensures that all nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system. Plus, GU drastically reduce the miles their leaves travel by keeping produce local – the leaves can be in your kitchen within 8 hours of being picked and packed!
Dressed in our best hair-nets, white coats and wellingtons (to protect the plants from any pollutants) we were given a tour of Growing Underground’s warren. The tunnels are extensive, running from Clapham high-street to the middle of The Common. They hum with machinery and glow neon-pink with LED lights. There are also a few quieter, darker tunnels that remain empty and still represent a bygone time: the space is an uncanny clash of future and past.
Founded by Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, the company’s initiative is to promote sustainable farming in the UK and beyond. The idea was born out of Richard and Steven’s interest futurism, sustainability and urban farming, along with the pairs’ robust business acumen.
Last year at Jardin Blanc, Growing Underground’s micro herbs were a main feature and this year they return with their greens displayed in ornate terrariums at the centre of the dining tables. Guests will be encouraged to select and snip their own herbs to add to their dishes to personalise and enhance. Plus, the restaurant’s Executive Chef, Raymond Blanc OBE, will be using a bespoke combination of leaves – rocket, radish, red mustard, coriander and fennel – to make the menu pop!
*We didn’t know what this meant either! The definition of hydroponic is the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.