While we may associate farming with sunshine, fresh air and pretty patches of land, innovation and technology are beginning to change where food is grown.
In London, for instance, one farm is using LED technology and hydroponic systems to produce greens 33-meters below the surface. The company, aptly named Growing Underground, says its process uses 70 percent less water than a traditional, “open-field farming.”
Hydroponics, as the Royal Horticultural Society puts it, relates to “the science of growing plants without using soil, by feeding them on mineral nutrient salts dissolved in water.”
With a focus on reducing food miles, Growing Underground says its produce – which includes mustard leaves, pea shoots and coriander – can be delivered within four hours of picking and packaging.
For several years now, Growing Underground has been collaborating with the University of Cambridge’s Energy Efficient Cities Initiative to analyze a range of data.
“We automatically log temperature and humidity but also manually record crop growth,” Melanie Jans-Singh, a PhD student at Cambridge, told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy.
“We try to analyze all these relationships between energy, crop growth and environmental conditions in order to be able to grow plants as best as possible with a minimal amount of energy,” Jans-Singh added.
The utilization of underused areas of urban space – Growing Underground’s site is located in a former air raid shelter – is set to play an increasingly important role in the way people grow crops.
“The Growing Underground farm is a very good example where a derelict space has been put to good use,” Ruchi Choudhary, reader in architectural engineering at Cambridge, told CNBC.
This idea, Choudhary explained, could be pushed further by tapping into environments that were rich in waste heat and carbon dioxide, such as hospitals and school buildings.