Commission #2: ‘Growing Communities’ ~ Market Gardening

The rich alluvial soils of the Ivel Valley make it a suitable area for market gardening. The market gardening industry in and around Biggleswade particularly flourished between the 18th and 20th centuries, due to its accessibility to major markets, particularly in London.  The Great North Road came through the town in the 1700’s; a navigable route on the Ivel was created in 1758; and the Great Northern and East Northern Railways opened in 1850/1, all enabling the development of greater trade links.

Circa 1902, Biggleswade’s most famous son Dan Albone invented the first practical self-propelled agricultural tractor, the Ivel Tractor, which revolutionised the way we farm. With this came the further expansion of market gardening and agriculture in this area, as well as a thriving tractor manufacturing industry. While market gardening in Biggleswade has declined from its former heyday due to a variety of social and economic factors, it is still home to leading co-operative Bedfordshire Growers, with G&M Growers also nearby. Meanwhile, the transport links that led to the industry’s original success now make the area desirable for London commuters.

We suggest this theme can be developed to include wider concepts such as sustainability, man’s relationship to the earth, nutrition and healthy living. Artists have often taken seemingly mundane subject matter and transformed this into powerful works, sending shockwaves that still reverberate today. Whether the numerous 16th Century still life paintings of food (e.g. ‘Fruitbasket’ by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio), or Andy Warhol’s painting of a can of Campbell’s soup (one of the first mass events that directly confronted the general public with both pop art and the perennial question of what art is).