Dr Peter Clarke
30 August 2014

East Bedfordshire's arcadia: marketing gardening 1969-2009

Forty years ago Bedfordshire was famous for its market gardening. Bedfordshire onions and brussel sprouts were the best in the country. In 1969 I carried out a land use survey in East Bedfordshire. (I lived in Sandy Road, Potton at the time.) In 2009 I repeated the survey exactly forty years to the day. My findings are described in a booklet, East Bedfordshire's arcadia: history of prophecy? Market gardening yesterday or tomorrow. (ISBN: 978-0-9550696-1). You can order a copy of this pamphlet via the store at www.northamptonsq.com
Traditional market gardening, with its characteristic pattern of strip cultivation, had disappeared. Pasture, largely used by horses, woodland, mineral working and waste were the big gainers. A few arable farmers have survived but the cultivation of vegetables at field scale is now an activity undertaken by growers who specialise in a single crop e.g. onions or potatoes. These growers work over very large acreages, with fields scattered over many counties.
The comparison between 1969 and 2009 is stark. It raises many important issues about how we feed ourselves, the role of the supermarkets in the food chain, the sustainability of agriculture and the importance of farming as the foundation of a health rural life. Are the current market arrangements just? A local farmer pleaded with me for 'Fair Trade' for British farmers.
My study presents the facts. It does not speculate about how this change came about. Most of those with whom I have shared these results are surprised, some are shocked. I think it is time that there is a debate on these topics. There is certainly scope for more of the facts to be brought to light.
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