It lies a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s city centre and alongside a city housing estate dogged by its unfortunate links to Trainspotting.
Now a sprawling field just four miles from the bustle of Princes Street is to be transformed into Scotland’s biggest urban farm, with billowing wheat fields, orchards, wildflowers and vegetable patches.
A 25-year lease for the 100-acres site, with upmarket Cramond on one side and Muirhouse – one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas – on the other, is set to be handed over by Edinburgh City Council to an agroecology co-operative to turn into a working organic farm.
The group behind the plans for Lauriston Farm want to create an urban food growing hub that will produce fresh vegetables and fruit to be distributed around the local community.
Under their vision, organic food boxes of freshly harvested and seasonal produce – often regarded as a middle-class luxury – will be delivered to some of the city’s most socially deprived homes.
As well as providing access to locally-grown quality produce, the group behind the farm say it will provide opportunities for local people to become more connected to the land, with allotments where they can grow their own food and volunteering opportunities to work the land.
There are also plans to enhance biodiversity across the site and use a range of techniques to restore the soil, which for years has been used simply for grazing sheep.
The project, which is being developed by Edinburgh Agroecology Cooperative (EAC), will be the city’s first agricultural enterprise and learning centre. Its transformation is expected to start this winter when scores of native woodland trees will be planted at points around the site.
The new farm stretches from the city’s Silverknowes Road – one of Edinburgh’s busiest arteries – with the housing estates of Muirhouse and West Pilton on one side and the more affluent community of Cramond to the other. It is also fringed by golf courses and overlooked by Lauriston Castle.
EAC Director Leonie Alexander, an ecologist who has worked with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said that although the site is a significant size, it had been unused by the community and struggled from a lack of biodiversity.
“It’s a striking landscape which goes from Lauriston Castle and slopes to the sea. It was grazed by sheep and had a silage crop, so people didn’t walk through it.
“We felt it had more potential because of its location at the edge of the city, with an interesting demographic – to the west it’s highly affluent Cramond and Barnton and on the other side it’s Drylaw and Muirhouse which are areas of social deprivation.
“It’s like a blank field with few features, and from a biodiversity point of view, not really delivering apart from coastal birds that come to roost.
“We thought it would be an incredible urban food growing hub.”
The group approached Edinburgh City Council with their idea. Having been granted the 25-year lease to farm the site they are now waiting for their planning application to be approved and are approaching grant bodies and funding sources to help purchase farm equipment.
Once underway, the landscape will be transformed with market garden and crop areas producing up to 50 different types of vegetables for fresh food boxes destined for the local area, woodland, orchards and, closer to the Firth of Forth, wader scrapes to encourage shallow water waders and their chicks.
The group, which has formed partnerships with food group Nourish Scotland, NHS Lothian and Scotland’s Rural College, is also planning a wildflower rich grassland, amphibian habitats, shrubs and planting work which will naturally improve and enrich the soil.
There are hopes to grow grains in some fields which could then feed into groups like Scotland The Bread, which is using organically grown, heritage and genetically diverse grains to produce healthier bread for distribution in food pantries and community bakeries.
Lisa Houston, EAC Director who has worked with Edinburgh-based community food groups, said the new farm will work to raise awareness of the project in the hope it can encourage people in more socially-deprived neighbourhoods to become involved.
“We know from affluent areas it’s very welcome, but we probably need to put more effort into how we engage with communities in north Edinburgh,” she said.
“Vegetable boxes delivered door-to-door is quite middle class and we need to be more inventive in getting that to places like Muirhouse, and getting people to engage with the land whether it’s walking about or volunteering or learning to grow food.”
Muirhouse, which was the location for various scenes in the Nineties movie, Trainspotting, including the notorious toilet scene, is often named among Scotland’s most deprived locations, with residents citing anti-social behaviour, drug use and food poverty as major issues.
Unlike a normal farm, produce from Lauriston Farm will not be sold to ‘middle men’ or supermarkets, and instead be delivered straight to customers or be distributed to food hubs, mostly in the north west Edinburgh area.
The farm has been welcomed by city council. Cllr Rob Munn, Finance and Resources Convener, said: “It’s fantastic news that Edinburgh Agroecology Co-op has had their lease approved and is a position to progress with their plans for an organic farm using our land.
“This is exactly the kind the project we need to see more of as it will empower local people to get involved growing food using sustainable methods to help to alleviate food poverty while creating jobs at the same time.”
And Cammy Day Council Depute Leader, said: “I’m delighted this lease has been granted as part of our wider £1.3bn sustainable regeneration of Granton Waterfront, creating new homes, jobs and communities.
“Working with local people on sustainable projects like this is a key part of our vision for the area to lead the way in sustainable development as part of Edinburgh’s commitment to be net zero carbon by 2030. I’m very much looking forward to working with the group going forward and buying the produce they grow.”
Lisa added: “We have spoken about it for so long, we are talking to funders, putting in grant proposals and awaiting answers.
“It’s daunting to think about what we’re doing, but we’ve had no time to feel overwhelmed. We’ve been planning since 2019 and we want to stop planning and do it.”