Market gardening

Market Gardening

Along the coastal fringes from Musselburgh to North Berwick lies the fertile sandy land cultivated by the county’s market gardeners. East Lothian boasts a long tradition of market gardening, producing a wide range of high quality fruit and vegetables for human consumption. Indeed, one of the very few busts in the world erected to a gardener can be found in Musselburgh; it commemorates James Stewart, gardener at Pinkie Gardens for 54 years, who died in 1838, and in 2000, the bust could be seen in front of the east-facing wall of Pinkie House, where it overlooked the walled garden, part of Loretto School.

In the years after the second world war, a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables – lettuce, leeks, sprouts, syboes, cabbage, plums and apples were supplied to markets in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Newcastle, transported by road and rail. Areas under glass produced tomatoes and flowers and some growers specialized in the production of grapes. In the post-war years, when food rationing was still in place, luxury items like grapes could command a premium price. By 1955/60 increased foreign imports forced a change in the market and home growers turned to growing fewer varieties and specializing in larger areas of vegetables i.e. cauliflower, cabbage leeks and brussel sprouts.

Market gardening methods were very labour intensive and large numbers of manual workers were employed (in the early years, many were from the mining communities). With increased mechanization for planting, harvesting and packing vegetables and the introduction of chemical sprays to control weeds, the laborious work of singling and hoeing declined. Forklift trucks for loading and unloading pallets of packed vegetables also reduced the amount of manual labour required. The acreage of vegetables produced in East Lothian reached a peak in the 1970s when 3500 acres and a variety of fruit and vegetables were grown; by 2000, there were just 1200 acres and a range of fruit and vegetables, adhering to high levels of hygiene and quality assurance requirements, were produced by a small number of specialist growers.


In 1945, there were about 200 (East Lothian County Year Book (1945) pp40-49) productive smallholdings throughout the county. Formerly large arable farms, they were converted by the Department of Agriculture into holdings ranging from approximately 10-50 acres. Predominantly family run, the larger-sized holdings mainly produced cereal crops combined with livestock, while the smaller units were farmed more intensively specializing in vegetables and soft fruit, dairying and poultry rearing. These smallholdings were successfully run over the years, but by the 1970s farm economics and changes in farming policy resulted in the land on the holdings being bought up by bigger neighbouring farms.

By the end of the 1990s, most of the houses were privately owned with only a very few, with land still attached, being run along traditional lines. There was a Pick-Your-Own (p.y.o). soft fruit farm at the Boggs Holdings, and at the Rhodes Holdings the Fergusson family still farmed their holding; the family had been there from 1928. Originally the 47-acre holding was run as a dairy unit. The holding was purchased from the Department of Agriculture, and additional land was added from neighbouring holders, increasing the size of the unit to 86 acres. In 2000, the holding was farmed by Mr. Fergusson’s son and grandson and produces spring malting barley for the cereal trade. Other enterprises carried out on the smallholdings include a riding school, farm shop, and plant nursery.