Farmers Club General Manager Virginia Masser and I were recently invited to a very special farm, writes Head Chef Paul Hogben.
This was no ordinary farm where we needed to take note of our great British weather – be it freezing cold, miserable and wet, or boiling hot. No, we went to see how Growing Underground worked, and it didn’t matter what the weather was like outside.
Childhood friends and founders Steven Dring and Richard Ballard had a simple idea – find a solution to the way that we, often arduously, source our food.
In South London, about 33 metres below the bustling streets of Clapham, you’ll find Growing Underground, an urban farm, housed in a network of dark and dingy tunnels, originally built for London Underground, but used as air-raid shelters during World War II. At 7,000 square feet, the tunnels had the capacity to accommodate up to 8,000 - you can still see the signage.
Nowadays, though, they host tray upon tray of sprouting herbs. What a great way of utilising some of the unused space under our great capital! Grow your own greens, deep below the City.
Earlier this year when UK supermarkets were rationing vegetables as a result of a poor harvest in Southern Europe, this green-fingered duo found a new solution to the healthy-eating problem.
The aim is to reconnect British consumers with local products, while reducing food miles and waste. As Steven said: “There’s climate change, there’s population growth, and you don’t want to keep flying stuff around the world. We need to look at our food system. We’ve got enough food to feed the planet, it’s just all in the wrong place.”
About ten types of herb are being cultivated, including pea shoots, rocket, red mustard, pink stem radish, garlic chives, fennel and coriander, for markets and wholesalers across London.
On our journey through the growing fields of this amazing place we sampled tiny leaves of various crops ready for harvesting and were blown away by the exquisite, fresh taste achieved 33m below ground.
Growing Underground prioritizes sustainable growing practices, working towards carbon neutral certification. Using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology they produce consistently high quality, mouth-watering fresh micro-greens and salad leaves year-round in a pesticide-free environment. Waste water rich in nutrients is kept within the closed-loop system removing any risk of agricultural run-off.
Farm to fork in under four hours
Unaffected by the weather and seasonal changes, and thanks to their prime location, food miles are drastically reduced for retailers and consumers – leaves arriving in London kitchens within four hours of picking and packing.
l hope we at the Club will be actively supporting this venture through the dishes we produce and the herb decorations on the tables in The Restaurant. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
Some recent praise for Club Functions
- “Thank you so much for doing a brilliant job. You were also incredibly helpful with last minute requests and nothing was too much trouble.”
- “The service last night was exemplary and we were very well looked after.”
- ‘’To have a venue in the heart of London that also champions the countryside is a huge selling point for us. We decided to hold an event to celebrate English Wine Week and to have a menu that sources British, regional foods and producers is fantastic.”
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