10-a-day? No problem!

Recent scientific research suggests we should be eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day to help live a longer life. To many people that may sound like a lot, but we don’t think so.

With 30 years’ experience growing organically, we really know our veg. We choose crops for flavour, rather than cosmetic perfection or high yield; for the carrotiest carrots, and potatoes like your grandad used to grow. Our boxes are all about bringing the best from the fields into customers’ homes. They are an inspiring way to cook from scratch, eat seasonally, and pack a load of goodness into your diet.

Founder and farmer Guy Watson believes squeezing 10 portions of fruit and veg into your daily diet is entirely possible. “It is easy to add 2 or 3 vegetables into every meal. From beetroot gratins to chard galettes, leeks on toast to every-veg curry, it really is so easy to make vegetables the star of every dish.”

Need some help getting to grips with the green stuff? You can access our veg nerds’ best tips and bright ideas for free on our recipe app, online recipe hub, YouTube channel – or even come along to one of our veg box cookery classes, happening across the country.

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Guy’s News: Can free trade ever be fair?

This week marks the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight. The principle of fairness is central to how we run Riverford, though the practice it is not always straightforward. Close to home, when we are able to manage relationships ourselves, we come very close to making principle a reality. Profits are shared with staff, we will become employee-owned next year, we have uniquely longterm, secure contracts with our fellow farmers and an honest pricing policy whereby all customers, new and old, pay the same. When trading further from home with more people in the supply chain things get harder; outside Europe we rely on Fairtrade certification, for bananas and pineapples in particular.

The combination of global free trade, innovation and capitalism has driven down the cost of almost everything, especially food, generating wealth and unprecedented consumption in the process. That there are benefits for most is unquestionable, but how these are shared has never been at all fair. Are brutal exploitation and inequality an intrinsic part of wealth creation? However much we want something to be fairer and are even willing to pay more for it, the power of capitalism stems from its simplistic measurement of value. This makes it good at delivering cheaply what can be objectively quantified and traded, but poor at integrating subjective concepts like fairness and human dignity.

Can free trade ever be fair? Can capitalism be harnessed to deliver more than wealth? I confess to occasional scepticism and sometimes feel it is futile to even try, yet, to quote Noam Chomsky, “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.” Like all success stories Fairtrade has its critics and some participant growers are frustrated, yet all the ones I have met have told me it has benefitted their communities, bringing empowerment and encouraging co-operation and social cohesion. It is hard to put a value on fairness and hope, but life is worth little without them so we support Fairtrade and the contribution it makes to creating a better world.

Guy Watson

What’s new?

No matter how exciting a new product is, to make it onto our shelves, wowing in taste tests is only the first hurdle. We must be just as confident in the ethics of anything we sell as we are in the flavour.

Here are the inspiring stories behind the newest treats in our online farm shop.

Cornish sea salad

Often the best ideas are hiding right under our noses. So it was for Caro Warwick-Evans and Tim van Berkel, two ocean-loving surfers and the founders of the Cornish Seaweed Company.

Renewable energy graduate Caro was listening to a Radio 4 programme about the Irish seaweed industry when she had her ‘eureka!’ moment. Cornwall’s waters are bursting with richly nutritious seaweed; why wasn’t it being used?

Old friend & conservationist Tim soon got on board with the idea, but making it happen turned out to be far from easy. England had no seaweed industry to speak of, so they had no precedent to follow through the complex laws and regulations surrounding our coastline. Eventually, they were granted license to harvest from a 5-mile stretch of the Lizard coast by the Crown Estate.

Sustainability is a founding principle of the Cornish Seaweed Company. They worked with Natural England to create a national code of conduct for sustainable seaweeding, always harvest by hand, and dry the seaweed using sun and wind energy. They are certified organic by the Soil Association.

Shop Cornish sea salad

Shade-grown coffee

In its wild form, coffee is a shrub that grows in the forest shade, protected from the sun by a canopy of trees. However, to produce greater yields, a new breed of sun-tolerant coffee plants was created in the 1970s. Swathes of rainforest have now been cleared for sun-grown coffee plantations, destroying habitats, leaching the soil of nutrients, and polluting the ecosystem with chemical nasties.

Our new ground coffee is organically shade grown. The shade trees not only provide protection from the sun, but also drop leaves which turn to mulch, keeping the soil naturally moist and fertile. Local wildlife is free to thrive around the crops – especially birds, who repay the favour by taking on pest control duty and eating insects off the plants.

This coffee is better for people too. The beans are grown by Manos Campesinas, a cooperative of small-scale organic coffee farmers in the remote highlands of Guatemala. Manos Campesinas helps its members access the market and receive fair payment, as well as supporting them to plan and grow their businesses. The cooperative’s innovative work includes farmer-to-farmer training in advanced organic methods, and leadership programmes for women. Watch supplier Equal Exchange’s video about women in coffee.

Shop organic ground coffee

Pure peanut butter

Another treat from pioneering fair trade supplier Equal Exchange, this thick, flavoursome peanut butter is made with 100% organic peanuts and nothing else. No salt, no sugar, no palm oil, no lecithin stabilisers – just the best organic peanuts, roasted without blanching to preserve all their natural goodness.

The peanuts are grown by the Yishui Xingye Groundnut Professional Association, a group of 58 small-scale organic farmers in the Shandong province of China. Each farmer leases a few small plots to grow their crop, leaving as much of the area wooded as possible to encourage plants and wildlife. They have been farming organically since 1996, and process the nuts in their organic-only processing factory.

In 2009 the Association was certified Fairtrade. The farmers have decided jointly how to spend the additional income. A successful idea must fulfil the 3 points pinned up in their training centre: serving a basic need, improving the situation of all the farmers, and possessing a long-term benefit. So far they have chosen to improve roads in the area, buy books and clothes for schoolchildren, and invest in better seeds, tools and irrigation.

Shop organic peanut butter

To find out more, visit www.cornishseaweed.co.uk and www.equalexchange.co.uk

Guy’s news: Getting a bit impatient

The first daffodils are out and wild garlic is sprouting in the woods. With the sun edging higher and the days lengthening, a grower’s urge to plant escalates with each bright morning. Yet despite this sap rising from our boots, the soil is still cold and wet, and with memories of early plantings that struggled in cold seed beds being overtaken by those planted later in better conditions, we will temper the urge to sow and catch up on holidays instead. Early plantings have to spend longer fighting off weeds and disease and contending with gales and rain, often producing lower quality crops than those planted a month later.

So, apart from early potatoes in favoured coastal areas, the ever-hardy broad beans and perhaps some hopeful sowings of carrots, we will wait until mid or late March to start planting in earnest. Perhaps we have become too risk averse; Brexit and a 20% devaluation in the pound does renew the pressure to save a week of imports by starting our season early, but perhaps that is the sap talking.

We may not be planting but it is time to start getting our warmer, well-drained south facing slopes ready. On heavy, hard-to-cultivate clay soil it is traditional to plough in the autumn, leaving the furrows standing as high and exposed to frost as possible. The progressive action of freezing and thawing breaks clods into a fine seedbed with little need for cultivation in the spring; particularly useful if your horsepower comes from a horse, as was the case when the practice originated. While this time-honoured technique works well in the east of England where rainfall and soil temperatures are lower, it is disastrous under the 30 to 40 inches of winter rain typical in Devon. Here it can reduce bare soil to the foul smelling mess you might dredge from the bottom of a pond. Anaerobic, full of toxins and intrinsically sick, it’s certainly no place to plant a vulnerable seed. 30 years of trial and error have taught us to let our soils rest over the winter covered with grass, a green manure or even weeds until late January at the earliest; the root channels and earthworms help drainage and aeration, while the foliage cushions the impact of raindrops and prevents soil erosion. The next break in the weather will herald our soil’s rude awakening; first with muck and then with the plough, and the new farming season will begin in earnest.

Guy Watson

Hens on the veg


Because of the current avian flu threat, our chickens (like all UK poultry) must be kept indoors until spring, to make sure they don’t have any contact with wild birds that might carry the infection.

The sheds are safe and comfortable, but our birds are used to roaming on open green pasture all day; understandably, they can get a bit bored. We’ve done all sorts to keep them entertained – even giving them some footballs to play with! But the thing they seem to enjoy the most is lots of tasty grade-out produce to graze on.

Watch our video below to see our hens living life on the veg.

Order organic eggs and chicken in our online farm shop.

Guy’s news: Corn Laws, Brexit & Trump

1815 to 1870 was the golden age for British farming. Early industrialisation brought burgeoning urban populations which, combined with high tariffs on imported cereals created by the 1815 ‘Corn Laws’, kept food prices and farm rents high. Through controlling the food available, farmers and landowners prospered at the expense of the urban poor and invested heavily in their farms; arguably a bucolic rural idyll was built on the back of desperate urban poverty. The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846; this, combined with new shipping and rail routes that opened the fertile US prairies to the plough, meant cereal imports rocketed and led to a collapse in UK grain prices and farm rents post 1870. Bar a brief let-up in WW1, the rural recession lasted until we were again threatened with dire food shortages by Germany’s U boats in WW2, exposing the risks of relying on global markets to feed us.

Post-war, UK and then EU farming subsidies brought a partial return to stability, prosperity and investment in farming over the last 60 years. I would argue its rules have also protected us from the most extreme and environmentally damaging versions of “free market” farming seen in the USA: lax pesticide regulation, vast intensive animal feedlots, the worst antibiotic abuse, soil loss, depopulated villages and hormone-injected cattle.

Judging by the limited information emerging from May’s discussions with Trump, it seems likely that farming, food safety and animal welfare will be sacrificed in a rush to the unregulated bottom that is World Trade Organization rules. Perhaps we could compete on world markets if farmers were free to bulldoze hedges, fell trees, pollute waterways and abuse their livestock, but I
doubt that is what Leave voters envisaged on June 23rd last year. Our island is too small and there are too many other legitimate stakeholders who want a say in how our food is produced and countryside managed. Welcome to an uncertain world in which we need to keep our eyes firmly on ensuring a decent food supply for all.

Guy Watson
With thanks to Professor Tim Lang for inspiration and editing.

Iceberg lettuce shortage? Kale Caesar!

Guy-Watson-and-his-favourite-cabbage-the-January-King

As supermarkets ration veg because of bad weather in Spain and Italy, is the shortage of iceberg lettuce the big deal many are making it out to be?

Riverford founder, and organic veg box pioneer, Guy Watson thinks not. ‘We need to relearn the potential of great British veg, and embrace seasonal British winter crops instead of relying on imports. Right now our fields are brimming with wonderful cabbages, leeks, kale, swede and flavourful greenery that have much more to offer than imported courgettes or watery iceberg lettuce.’

He continues, ‘A lack of lettuce isn’t a big deal. One of our most popular winter dishes in the Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant is our Kale Caesar Salad; it is always a hit with diners, who are rarely aware that kale can be a far superior substitute for bland salad leaves. It’s also really easy to make a vibrant winter slaw using beetroot, carrot, red cabbage and swede – all in season and growing in British fields right now.’

As farmers ourselves, we know how devastating bad weather can be for a crop, and have a commitment to support our growers, and minimise waste by having much more generous specifications than the supermarkets.

‘In my experience, when I was growing for supermarkets, up to a half of all veg was often left in the field due to unnecessarily tight cosmetic specifications. We don’t believe in such needless waste so for example, we’re currently including undersized broccoli heads in our veg boxes, but just giving more of them. Because we grow, source, pack and deliver our veg ourselves, we have the flexibility to widen our specifications.’

With 30 years of veg growing experience behind us, we really know how to make great British veg sing. Our recipe hub is packed with recipes to help bring British veg to life, such as Kale, Chorizo and Potato Hash, Moroccan Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas and Hazelnuts, and Kale, Fruit and Nut Pilaf.

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Guy’s news: Veg men & veg ladies wanted

When we started packing veg boxes back in 1993, marketing consisted of evenings spent photocopying and folding leaflets after I got home from delivering the boxes. As sales grew and I wanted to get back to the fields, I employed feckless young men who crashed my vans and were rude to customers, leaving me increasingly frustrated. For a short while a local group of musicians handled the sales and deliveries, leaving me to grow the veg. It worked well at first but they turned out to be as stubbornly independent and anarchic as me but less reliable; they were all charging different prices, sometimes adding non-organic eggs etc., and often competing with each other in the same village. My big sister, having spent her life marketing in London, told me I should be concentrating on developing my brand; I honestly didn’t know what she was talking about but could see that we needed organisation and consistency to move forward. Taking her advice, I tried to organise my band of anarchists into accepting allocated sales territories and selling produce at the same price and even adopting some common systems, but predictably most told me where I could stick it.

At about that time a bright young staff member called Martin went to a seminar and came back telling me there was a name for what I was trying to do; franchising. For years I just called it “the F word”; there are so many horribly exploitative businesses that have followed this model that I refused to accept it. However, after 20 years I now do; our 61 local franchisees know their customers and areas better than we could ever hope to and deliver a level of personal service we struggle to match when we deliver ourselves. As over 50% of our franchisees came to us as customers first, might it be for you? We need veg men and ladies to help bring our fields into our customers’ homes, connecting them to how their food is grown and helping them enjoy it around the kitchen table. Business should be fun, so we are looking for franchisees who we like, trust and who share our vision for a world where good food, good farming and good business are the norm.

Take a look at riverford.co.uk/franchise to find out more.

Top tips for juicing

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Seasonal fruit and succulent veg, zingy citrus, fresh herbs and spices… our new organic juicing box is brimming with all you need to make at least 3 litres of organic juice. With such a rainbow of squeezable things at your fingertips, the possible mixes are endless.

Here is our chefs’ guide to juicing, to help you make the most of all that good stuff.

Getting started
If you’re completely new to juicing, start by squeezing a few things separately then mixing, rather than trying to judge a harmonious blend straight into the glass. This also lets you taste the individual flavours; you can’t rely on vegetables’ cooked taste as a strict frame of reference for their juice.

Mixology
The key to a good blend is well balanced flavours. Start with the premise that what works well on the plate – beetroot and orange, apple and celery, cucumber and mint – will also work in the glass, and build from there using this flavour guide.

Mild
Mild ingredients such as apple, celery, cucumber, courgette, lettuce and melon form the base of your juice. They tend to yield large amounts of liquid, and act as a carrier for brasher flavours.

Sweet
Most people’s favourite flavour, found in most fruits and some veg (e.g. parsnips and carrots). Don’t be tempted to go too sweet; it’s much more satisfying when tempered with other, more complex flavours.

Bitter
Bitter veg such as dark leaves and brassicas definitely taste like they’re doing you good, but needn’t be taken as punishment. Combine with something sharp or sweet to round off their harsher edges.

Sharp
A hint of something sharp can do wonders to pep up a juice. Too much will make you wince, but a well-judged squeeze of lemon or lime is a good foil for excessive sweetness or bitterness.

Earthy
A deep, sturdy flavour found in most roots, especially carrots and beetroots. The right complementary flavours can really make it sing – try beetroot and orange, or carrot, apple and ginger.

Aromatic
Fresh greens herbs and spices, such as mint, parsley, turmeric and ginger, can be very dominating. Use cautiously, as a garnish to your juice.

It’s not just about flavour…
Yield
As well as a good flavour, you need enough liquid to make a decent drink. Some things yield a small amount of strong-tasting juice (e.g. kale, parsnips); others produce a larger volume with a milder flavour (e.g. cucumber, lettuce, melon). Try to choose at least one high-yielding ingredient.

Colour conscious
A photogenic juice is not your main aim, but it is worth remembering you colour charts from primary school. If you’re aiming for a certain hue, try to keep things in roughly the same spectrum. If all goes brown and murky, just add beetroot.

Thicken it up
Bananas and avocados are far too soft and mushy to juice; blend them into your juice instead.

Practical tips
Whatever the blend, these hints will come in handy.

  • As we are organic, there’s no worry of chemicals or wax on the skins, so most things can be juiced without peeling. Just take off any strong-tasting peel (e.g. citrus), or very tough skins that might challenge your juicer (e.g. melon or pineapple).
  • Greens are best tightly rolled before putting them in the juicer.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t try to force through too much, too fast.
  • Don’t forget to taste, tweak, and taste again, just as you would when cooking.
  • Finish with a high-yielding ingredient (e.g. cucumber) to wash through any trapped flavours.
  • Depending on the oomph of your juicer, it may be worth re-juicing the pulp to see if you can extract a few last drops.
  • Drink your juice as soon as possible. It will last up to 2 days in the fridge, but starts to oxidise and lose nutritional value quickly.
  • Compost your pulp. You could plant some veg in the results and juice that, too; a perfect circle.

Get juicing!
We hope these tips inspire you to become a mad juice scientist, creating your own colourful concoctions. Also try chef Bob’s juicing recipes, updated every week to reflect what’s in the box.

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Guy’s news: The courgette “crisis”

Last week I was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about the great courgette “crisis”. The word “crisis” is questionable, but courgettes are indeed hard to come by; snow in Spain and extreme cold in Italy has killed many crops and brought others to a halt. Predictably, I advocated eating instead seasonal veg grown closer to home, but recent hard frosts have left greens of all sorts in short supply, even in Devon.

I suspect the term “crisis” refers to the followers of “clean eating” and in particular those fond of spiralizing courgettes. I am inherently resistant to claims of ‘superfoods’ and most dietary dogma as I question whether the healthiness, or otherwise, of a food can be defined by one parameter, whether salt, saturated fat, carbs, alkalinity or even organicness; I hope I have never made outlandish claims for my cabbages or cardoons. Yet with 40 years of scientific advice to switch from unprocessed “natural” animal fats like butter to factory-made unsaturated fats like margarine now looking questionable at best, some skepticism of conventional scientific advice is understandable. It is unfortunate that the highly-processed foods we should avoid have the biggest budgets for advertising, lobbying and sponsoring the research which shapes advice and our choices.

So who should we trust? Instinct might have been a guide (as it is for most animals) but probably not when standing in a supermarket aisle where it is corrupted beyond usefulness by advertising, packaging, the food choices presented, plus a media more prone to extremes than balance. Our government’s “Eat Well Guide” is a good start, though even here I suspect commercial
influence in places. Beware of anyone with a product or brand to sell and anyone quoting gurus, absolutes and pseudo-science (having said that I detect a bitter misogyny behind the recent slating of the Hemsleys, Deliciously Ella etc.) Instead I reckon Michael Pollan’s (I paraphrase) “Eat less, mostly plants, and only things your grandmother would recognise as food” is an intelligible place to start.

Guy Watson