Photo: Martin Cervenansky
Three years after crowdfunding to transform a former WWII bunker at Clapham tube station into a subterranean farm growing micro herbs for the London restaurant scene, Growing Underground, has launched a range of salad mixes into the retail market.
The blend of pea shoots and micro herbs are inspired by flavours from around the world - and all the produce is grown 33 metres below the streets of Clapham using hydroponic systems and LED technology.
All Growing Underground crops - watercress, basil, rocket, red vein sorrel, radish, pea shoots, mustard leaf, coriander, garlic chive, fennel and mizuna - are grown year-round in a pesticide-free environment provided by the forgotten tunnels that were once used to shelter Londoners from the Blitz bombings.
The Asian, Japanese, Italian, Indian and English salad mixes are now available online through the UK’s largest online grocer Ocado and Planet Organic stores in London.
Farmdrop online delivery service, Langridge Organic, Ted’s Veg in Borough Market are also stocking the new range, as well as wholesale from Neil Brown Herbs in New Covent Garden.
Growing Underground was founded in 2015 by entrepreneurs Richard Ballard, Chris Nelson and Steven Dring, to provide sustainable reduced-mile British farming.
Using a low-energy model to grow high quality crops right on the doorstep of customers and offering a farm-to-fork concept of just four hours is a key part of Growing Underground’s ethos.
The novel operation has the backing of celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr who has approved the new salad range.
“From the very beginning it was always our plan to do a retail offering and we’ve been working hard to develop this product which is a mixture of some of our crops grown beneath the streets of London,” co-founder Richard Ballard tells PBUK.
“Of course we’re thrilled to go into retail after initially concentrating on the foodservice sector, delivering to New Covent Garden Market every night. From their our micro herbs and salad have been been going out to various restaurants - but it’s great they will now reach more people.”
Retailing for £2.49, the salad mixes can be grown very quickly with some cycles taking just a few days.
“They grow anything from five to 12 days depending on the crop and the variety. The whole process from propagation is about 21 days maximum.
“We’re using LED technology, hydroponics and an ebb and flood system; that’s a method of flooding the bed with water and the nutrients are carried in the water and then that feeds the roots.
“We are absolutely over the moon as we always planned to have a retail offering and as a relatively small start-up, it feels great having achieved this.”