UK: Forgotten underground vaults transformed into farm

Green-fingered Luke founded Leaf + Shoot just four months ago and today his underground farm on Burton Lane produces a wide range of tasty mushrooms, leafy greens, and fresh herbs which are sold directly to homeowners.

Luke, aged 41, began to sow the seeds for a new business venture six years ago when he realized the need for a change in the emerging technology hydroponics – which replaces soil with organic feed - could be used as a way of producing leafy vegetables and herbs without the need for soil or natural light.

Luke said: “Bioponic vertical farming may sound like something straight out of the world of science fiction, but it is a sector which holds a lot of potential for growth and more importantly, offers solutions to issues like wasted food, inefficient traditional farming techniques, soil degradation, and address the challenges posed by climate change and global food shortages.

“We didn’t have a lot and organic fruit and vegetables could be incredibly expensive to buy. So we grew our own. My mum was determined that I would grow up eating rubbish food and she got me interested in helping out in the garden from an early age. “One of my earliest memories was cutting the chives we’d harvested from the garden. We grew pretty much all the usual things you’d expect to find a garden: cabbages, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It taught me the importance of being self-reliant.”

After leaving school, Luke worked as a builder, going on to run his own successful business, but his passion for gardening and finding new ways of growing good food more effectively led him to experiment with hydroponics.

He began conducting aquaponics experiments where the waste products from fish are used to feed plants, but as he began to realize that neither could act as the catalyst for the green growing revolution he is hoping to inspire.

“The people of Sheffield seem to have a real affinity for green thinking. There is an incredible entrepreneurial spirit in Sheffield and being surrounded by people who are determined to make their mark on the world is infectious and inspired me to turn my hobby into a business.”

Luke swapped the backbreaking shifts on building sites with 12 hour working days, seven days a week – even sleeping occasionally in the bed where he now grows his range of organic leaves as he put the finishing touches to, what he hopes will become a template for a new, more sustainable way of farming. 

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