Growing Underground: Urban Food in Abandoned Subway Tunnels

London Underground sometimes uses the phrase “Moving London” as a slogan to describe the service it provides for the city. Growing Underground might think “Feeding London” could be an equally descriptive future slogan for the network if the full potential of its dormant areas and abandoned tunnels is fully realized for another purpose.

Growing Underground has transformed a series of abandoned “deep level” subway tunnels 33 meters beneath the streets of the city into growing chambers for greens and salad leaves.

Growing Underground has transformed a series of abandoned subway tunnels into growing chambers for greens and salad leaves.
Growing Underground has transformed a series of abandoned subway tunnels into growing chambers for greens and salad leaves.

The advantages of using the existing abandoned subway tunnels as a subterranean urban farm are numerous, says the company. For one, the carbon footprint of the food is vastly reduced – taking the elevator a few floors to the surface takes infinitely less resources for distribution than flying crops across an ocean. In addition, Growing Underground’s parent company Zero Carbon Food notes:

  • “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 cool tunnels (naturally always 16°C) are an ideal place to grow. We can farm at the same consistent quality all year, which means we don’t have to source crops from countries with better climates.”
  • “There are no pests living this far underground, so we have no need for pesticides at all.” 
  • “The LEDs we use are 3 times more efficient than traditional high pressure sodium lights used in commercial agriculture, and the perfectly insulated tunnel environment requires no extra heating to grow naturally healthy crops.”
  • “The hydroponics system uses and wastes 70% less water than conventional open-field farming. Water will come from rain-water harvesting on the surface and direct from the water table via the sump.”

London’s relationship with its Underground transportation network is storied and intrinsic to the identity of the city. During WWII, the tunnels sheltered thousands of citizens during German bombing raids on the city. Perhaps the future holds more beneficial uses for the tunnel system. 

Growing Underground and 43 other innovative urban reuse projects are featured in the Reprogramming the City book!

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