Watford-based electrical services company Bert Electrics has been supporting an innovative urban food project, Growing Underground, which could radically change the way food is grown and distributed around the capital.
Deep down in a dusty old World War II air raid shelter in Clapham, south London, Richard Ballard – who Darryl Bertie, Bert Electrics head honcho, has known for years – and his business partner Steven Dring are growing vegetables and herbs. request a call back
Growing and glowing veg underground
This underground domain covers 2.5 acres for crops that will include a range of exotic herbs and shoots, such as Pea Shoots, Rocket, Red Amaranth, Mizuna, Broccoli, Garlic Chives, Red Vein Sorrel, Mustard Leaf, Radish, Coriander and Thai Basil. Edible flowers and miniature vegetables will also be grown, and there are plans afoot to move onto heritage tomato varieties and mushrooms.
If they get funding for long-term food production Richard and Steven may have solved a huge logistical problem of getting fresh produce around the bustling metropolis with a massively reduced carbon footprint.
The tricky task of installing the lighting was carried out by Darryl and his merry band last year – no mean feat, as the growing area is some 100 feet from pavement level.
It’s a long way down, an even longer way back up
Darryl describes the subterranean scene when he started working on the project: “There’s a 35-metre drop from the top of the staircases to the tunnels which are close to Clapham North station. A few steps and the descent takes about five minutes, but it’s considerably longer getting back to ground level, it almost takes your breath away.
“When we first went down there it was quite eerie and pitch black. The only source of light was torches until I fixed a few of the existing lights, then we could at least see our hands in front of our faces.
The prototype growing bench
“Considering the tunnels have not been used for over sixty years it was surprisingly dry, with a few damp areas. Stalactites hung from the tunnel ceilings that made it feel like you were on the set of “Aliens”!
“The total floor area of the tunnel complex is about the size of three full-size football pitches.
“The tunnels themselves are about seven metres wide and split into two levels, which maximises the growing space as you’ve got a main floor and a mezzanine level, which are big enough to stand up in, are interconnected and seem to go on for an eternity.”
Bert and his team designed the electrics with the aspirations of the Zero Carbon Food Company very much in mind.
Special hydroponic low energy LED light fittings
They ran electricity to the growing tables and fitted low-energy LED fittings specifically developed for hydroponic growing (they emit red and blue light that supports the photosynthesis process). Initially, fabric lining the tunnel floors and ceilings was repaired, then the LED lights were secured to the tables.
“We did as much electrical consultancy and practical work as we could, but as Growing Underground needed further technical assistance we recommended a plumbing and alarm company to help out,”adds Bert.
Early on they realised that they could only get half of the project set up. “Eventually a new sub-main will have to be installed by an electricity provider to enable growing in all the tunnels, which will be another huge project in itself. Once this is done we’ll be heading downstairs again.
“We feel very privileged to have worked with Growing Underground from “acorn stage” and hope to watch them grow into a huge and magnificent oak. It’s taken about six months so far and it’s not been easy or simple.”
Michel Roux Jr gives project thumbs up
“This is barely the first chapter of the project, but it demonstrates what you can achieve with a vision and a concept. We’re sure it will get bigger and better and we hope to co-write many more chapters.”
When you discover that TV chef Michel Roux Jr, who runs the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche restaurant, has given the project the thumbs up too, you realise the only way is up for Richard and Steven. Here’s what Mr Roux said:
“When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy. But when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away. The market for this produce is huge.”
Articles about the project have been published in local and international press. At Bert Electrics we reckon the brass bands will play and feet will start to pound if this exciting new project hits the big time and goes overground!
Want to invest in Zero Carbon Food?
Bert Electrics is one of 177 investors who have taken a punt on Zero Carbon Food, who are currently looking to raise £300,000.
We think it’s the food for London’s future and we reckon they’ll do it…
If you do too, put your money where your mouth is!
Just click here to support the project.
Find out more about the Zero Carbon Food project
On the Mashable website (very cool…)
And you can ‘Like’ them on Facebook
Look out for more news about Growing Underground. Fingers and toes crossed that they reach their target.
For more info call 01923 369194 or we will call you back