Category Archives: Uncategorised

Palm-oil free mince pies – and everything else!


We’re very pleased to be able to say that from the start of 2017, Riverford has been 100% palm-oil free. For the most part, this was straightforward to achieve: we added ‘no palm oil’ to the criteria any new products must meet, and that was that. We also needed to replace palm oil in a couple of our existing products. Luckily, this was only our Christmas puddings and mince pies, so we had all year to experiment and get the new recipes absolutely right!

Palm oil is the most used vegetable oil in the world. As well as being cheap to produce in large quantities, it has a very long shelf-life, and a high melting point, remaining semi-solid at room temperature (much like butter). This means it can be used in lots of different ways: frying at high temperatures, adding to baked goods, creating margarine, and even in cosmetic products like lipstick and soap.

For all its advantages in the kitchen, there are serious environmental concerns about the production of palm oil and the vast deforestation that has often been perpetrated to make way for plantations. The palm oil industry has been making efforts to become more sustainable in recent years, most notably with the establishment of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and its certification scheme in 2004. However, we still don’t feel that using any palm oil sits comfortably with our values.

So, we began playing with our Christmas pudding and mince pie recipes. In the puds, we replaced palm oil with organic vegetable oil. The result was much the same, with no real noticeable difference in the light, fruity texture (except a weight off our minds).

In the mince pies, we’ve substituted the palm oil with organic British butter. We had to fiddle about with the recipe a bit to get the texture spot on. While we were at it, we also made the pastry cases deeper, so we could spoon in even more festive filling. We’re really pleased with the result: rich, buttery pies, with a generous filling of plump vine fruit, citrus peel, almonds and a slosh of brandy.

From now on, you can rest assured that every Riverford product is not just 100% organic, but also totally palm-oil free. It may be the easy option, but we know we’re better off without it – why not try our new recipe mince pies and see for yourself!

References
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/ng-interactive/2014/nov/10/palm-oil-rainforest-cupboard-interactive
http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/dec/17/palm-oil-sustainability-developing-countries

Cream for Christmas… with a little help from our friends

This Christmas, customers whose orders are delivered from Wash Farm in Devon might notice something a little different about their organic cream. The label will say Acorn Dairy instead of Riverford Dairy – and the tub will contain a little extra! Our usual cream will be back after Christmas. So why the temporary change?

You may have seen some slightly teasing articles in the media about France suffering a butter shortage and facing the terrible prospect of life without croissants (as the Guardian put it, ‘‘Sacré buerre’!). They’re not the only country whose dairy industry is going through a difficult time; cream (and so butter) is thin on the ground in the UK too. Supply has been just enough for this shortage not to be visible for most of the year… but as demand soars over the festive season, some dairies may hit the bottom of the churn.

In 2014/15, there was a dairy surplus. An excellent grass harvest all over the world meant that cows were flourishing, and the white stuff was flowing freely – driving prices down. At the same time, demand plummeted. This was thanks to an astonishingly complex web of international factors; everything from a dip in oil prices hitting Middle Eastern incomes, to Russia’s 2014 ban on European dairy imports and a downturn in the economies of Europe and China (the world’s biggest dairy importer), combined to leave dairy farmers with too much milk and no one to sell it to.

Naturally, dairy farmers put the brakes on. Production was cut down by 5-10%; many even quit the dairy industry during this very tough time. But now, just a short while later, the situation has reversed: demand for milk solids is heading sharply up again.

At home, possible health concerns about alternatives like margarine have brought once-demonised butter back into popularity, hailed as the more natural, less processed option. Globally, poor grass harvests in key dairy-producing countries like Australia and New Zealand, and the pound falling against the euro, have also made British cream more attractive to international buyers.

Unfortunately, the supply can’t just be turned back on overnight; it took a while to wind down, and will take a while to wind back up again. Many dairy farmers are now struggling to cope with excessive demand.

The Riverford Dairy has had enough to cover our customers’ needs throughout the year, but at Christmas, this demand rockets skywards. Splashed onto puddings and pies, swirled into bread sauce, whipped and spread thickly inside yule logs… We get through buckets more of the stuff than usual, and The Riverford Dairy won’t quite be able to cover it.

Luckily, our friends at Acorn Dairy have been able to step in and give us a hand! Acorn Dairy is an award-winning organic dairy in Darlington, owned and run by the Tweddle family since 1928. They supply delicious organic cream and more for our customers in the North and East of the country all year round. For Christmas week, they’ll kindly be supplying enough for everyone.

The cream is still 100% organic and of outstanding quality. The only differences are the Acorn Dairy packaging, and the size of the tub: you’ll enjoy 284ml instead of 250ml, for the same price!

We hope you enjoy your Acorn Dairy cream over Christmas. Our usual Riverford Dairy cream will be back in the new year.

To order your Acorn Dairy cream for Christmas week, just add Riverford Dairy cream to your basket as usual – Acorn Dairy cream will arrive on the day.

References

https://www.ft.com/content/1b93f92c-5ef8-11e6-bb77-a121aa8abd95
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jan/16/dairy-farmers-milk-prices-economy
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/07/butter-price-all-time-high-dairy-production-curdles

Wooden nets & your thoughts about packaging

Hello, I’m Robyn – Riverford’s new(ish) packaging technologist. I’ve been working at Riverford HQ on the Devon farm for six months. Like everyone here, I’m passionate about food and the environment. Now that I’ve had some time to get to grips with the business and its ethos, I’m starting to review our existing packaging, making sure it reflects our ethics and looking at ways for us to improve.

Can’t live with it, can’t live without it
As much as people (ourselves included!) might wish that we could do without packaging entirely, it plays a huge part in ensuring product quality and enabling distribution through our whole supply chain – from the boxes that loop between our farm and your door, to the punnets that hold our mushrooms secure in transit. In general, our ethos is that less is more: if the product is robust enough to travel without being damaged, then there’s no need to add unnecessary packaging. Although we already look consciously at our packaging, my role has been created to really make sure that we’re doing the best we can.

Consistent customer feedback, as well as thoughts within Riverford, have lead me to rethink one item of our packaging first: plastic nets. We use these for items such as citrus and onions that are packaged in individual portions for people to add to their veg boxes or choose when building an individual order from scratch. My conundrum was this: we couldn’t get rid of nets entirely, as we rely on them to distribute equal-weight portions to every customer; and we couldn’t swap to another type of packaging without using even more material. I was stuck…. But then I came across a really exciting company in Austria that produces biodegradable net alternatives made from beech wood.

Wood, making a net?
It sounds strange, but actually works beautifully, and is very environmentally friendly. The wood is a by-product from the forestry industry: when the trees in PEFC-certified sustainable forests grow to a certain height, some are thinned out to give the remaining trees space and light to grow. The thinned-out trees would normally be burned; however, the net provides an alternative use. The wood is chipped and broken down further into pulp, spun into a string-like material, then knitted together into a net tube ready for our products.

Watch our video below to find out more about beech netting and how it’s made…

Needless to say, we decided to use the net – and in fact, have already started! We also have a large stock of plastic nets that we want to use up; you will still see some plastic nets in your boxes until we completely run out. We felt it would be wasteful to just throw away our existing stock, so as each plastic colour runs out we will replace it with the biodegradable version. Green and white biodegradable nets are already being used.

If you’re confused about what your net is made from, the feel will give it away: if it’s soft and natural feeling then you’ve got a biodegradable one. If it’s hard and plastic-y then it’s from the last of the plastic stock.

The way to dispose of your beech wood net is to cut off the metal clips (these aren’t biodegradable, though we are looking into alternatives) and put the net on your compost heap or in your council compost bin.

To find out more about our existing packaging and research with the University of Exeter, visit our packaging manifesto.

Share your thoughts on Riverford packaging
As part of my review of our existing packaging, I’m really keen to hear what customers think. If you have a few minutes to spare, please fill out the questionnaire below. I look forward to hearing your feedback, and will be personally reading the responses and bringing you more sustainable packaging changes in the future!

Click here to fill in the Riverford packaging survey

Pumpkin Day 2017; another year of autumnal cheer

On Saturday we opened our four farms’ gates to 6,00o visitors for our legendary annual Pumpkin Day event. Families across Devon, Yorkshire, Peterborough and Hampshire joined us for pumpkin carving, face painting, worm digging, live music, tasty organic food and a good dose of fresh farm air!

The weather was on our side and once again we had a successful year welcoming people to see where we grow our iconic veg. We’re not sure of the exact start date of Pumpkin Day, but the Watson family recall the event happening on our original Devon farm over 20 years ago.

A new addition this year was our wonderfully eccentric and rather noisy Human Veg Machine, where participants had to match veg to win prizes.

A huge thanks to everyone who came. Here’s a glimpse of the action.

Put pumpkin on your plate, not the bin!

Every year the UK wastes around 18,000 tons of perfectly edible pumpkin flesh and seeds as the nation carves away to make spooky Halloween lanterns.

Like squash, pumpkin is sweet and warming and can be delicious if cooked in the right recipes. Here are a few veg-centric recipes to help turn your pumpkin waste into a tasty meal or treat.

For all of the below you can substitute pumpkin for squash if you need a little inspiration to use up your Squash Box.


Pumpkin Madeleines with Pumpkin Custard & Cinnamon Meringue
Unusual and slightly long winded but totally worth it. The meringue isn’t necessary but adds an impressive finish. All the elements can be made individually if you don’t want to tackle the whole recipe.
See recipe

 


Pumpkin Fritters with Romesco
These fritters are simple to prepare and the romesco is a delicious accompaniment, but can be substituted for a simple mayonnaise mixed with paprika and garlic. We like the romesco with a mix of nuts rather than using just almonds. Cashews add a creamy taste to the sauce.
See recipe

 


Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Pumpkin Seed Dukka, Sumac Red Onions, Wootton White, Pistachio & Pomegranate
This dish has a Middle Eastern feel to it and is a good way to use up pumpkin flesh and seeds. Wootton White is an English Greek style sheep’s cheese and can be substituted with feta.
See recipe

 


Thai Pumpkin Curry
Squash and pumpkin work well in a Thai curry as the coconut milk complements the sweetness of the veg and lemony flavours add a fresh flavour. Make sure you bruise the lemongrass by bashing it with a rolling pin to release the aromatic flavour. If you don’t fancy making the paste, you can buy it ready made.
See recipe

The spirit of food, fun and togetherness at Abergavenny Food Festival.

Last week we packed up the Riverford Yurt, our Human Veg Machine and more and made our way to the small Welsh town of Abergavenny to what can only be described as the Glastonbury of all food festivals.

We set up camp in the gorgeous Linda Vista Gardens and spent the weekend inspiring people of all ages to Live Life on the Veg with us.

The yurt was home to Master Veg cooking classes where Ben showed attendees how to turn a brimming box of veg into an inspirational organic feast.

Our I Can Eat a Rainbow classes were a big hit with the little ones, where they made beautiful fruit and veg rainbows (and ate lots of “carrot rain” and fennel slices in the process!)

Close by at the demo area Head Chef at The Duke of Cambridge, Peter, wowed the crowds with his ‘cooking veg over fire’ show. Festival-goers watched on as Peter made charred lettuce and cucumber, ash cooked beetroot with charred orange, and queued in large numbers after to try his veg creations.

It was a full house for Guy’s appearance at the Great Farmyard Debate where he sat with Professor Tim Lang, John Davies from NFU Cymru and farmer Kate Beavan for an informal yet intellectual discussion on what agriculture may look like post-Brexit.

It’s safe to say however that the hit of the weekend was our Human Veg Machine. We made a lot of noise with whistles, the giant carrot bell and horns and played match the veg with hundreds of contestants eager to win Riverford prizes. We thought we were in a spot of trouble and making too much noise when we saw three police women approaching, but they just couldn’t resist a go either!

Yet again our weekend at Abergavenny was inspiring, fun and totally exhausting. The energy when a group of fantastic British producers, food journalists and food lovers come together in a beautiful location is infectious. We’re already looking forward to the next! Thanks to all who came and visited us during the weekend.

Diary of an IT intern

This summer, we were joined at the farm by Maddie – our first IT intern, from Bristol University. In her last week, she wrote about her experiences with us…

Almost as soon as I left home for university I became a Riverford customer. I was delighted by their ethical stance and their product. Eva Wiseman, a columnist at the Guardian, said receiving her veg box made her ‘feel a bit loved’ and I felt the same about my weekly veg delivery. So naturally, I was thrilled to spend the summer working as a software developer at Riverford.

After two years of a Computer Science degree I felt comfortable programming; however, while at Riverford I was regularly presented with challenges I’d never faced. In contrast to the paltry applications I’d tinkered with at university, I needed to read through pages of code, belonging to past iterations of the website, to fix a bug or add a new feature. Coping with the complexity of large code bases is a common hurdle for amateur software engineers and one I’d anticipated. However, the technological innovation at Riverford surpassed my expectations. I had a crash course in Clojure, a powerful functional programming language with alien syntax, and React.js, a fashionable Javascript library written by Facebook.

The projects I worked on were just as novel. One of which was automatically generating recommendations for the website. This involved strategically weighting statistics for popularity, seasonality and similarity to produce sensible product recommendations. I hope this feature offers a source of inspiration to customers whilst alleviating the burden for those tasked with curating these recommendations manually.

I am very grateful for my time at Riverford. I had the opportunity to work alongside exceptionally skilled developers who are passionate about their craft. What’s more, I leave this week with the same admiration for Riverford’s business ethic that I arrived with. It has been a pleasure to work with highly motivated people to further the prospects of a business with a proven commitment to the planet and its people.

Thank you, Maddie! It’s been wonderful having you with us!

25 years of Guy’s news

We have a new Riverford book in the pipeline for next year, and we need your help.

We’re asking customers of more than 10 years to tell us about their favourite newsletter – the older the better. Is there a story, opinion or rant which is particularly memorable? Email the title, date (if you know it) and your reason to emilymuddeman@riverford.co.uk.

Unlike today’s digital age, records were scarce in the early days. If you have any physical copies of our newsletters from 1993 to 2000, we’d love to see them.

Please photograph or scan to to emilymuddeman@riverford.co.uk , or pop in the post to:

Emily Muddeman
Riverford Organic Farmers
Wash Barn
Buckfastleigh
TQ11 0JU

You could get a mention in our next book!

Happy 10th Birthday, Home Farm!

This summer marks ten years since Riverford first arrived at its home in the north, Home Farm. Since then, so much has changed – and we couldn’t have done any of it without our customers’ support. Thank you, everyone, for being part of the family!

Our new beers and ciders and their stories.

We’ve introduced four new beers and ciders to our drink offering, carefully selected for flavour from independent breweries. As with most of the small-scale producers we work with, they have interesting stories to tell. Here’s a little about what makes each brewery and beverage special.

The first addition is from Barnaby’s Brewery, made quite literally a stone’s throw away from us at the Riverford dairy farm in the old stable block. Their Pilsner lager is made with fresh spring water from the farm, which allows its delicate malt flavour shine through; you’ll struggle to find another brewery using spring water from an organic farm!

Team Barnaby and Tim set up the business after brewing as a hobby for years. What really helped Barnaby take the plunge was realising that with three teenage sons quickly growing up, his household was soon going to get through a lot of beer!

Tim’s engineering experience has allowed them to build their bespoke brewhouse using innovatively adapted reclaimed equipment.

What’s really impressive about Barnaby’s Brewhouse is their integrity in their efforts to make sure every by-product is put to use. Their spent grain is fed to the Riverford dairy herd; waste water is filtered in hand-built reed beds then fed back onto the land; the yeast slurry is either harvested and used for future brews or fed to pigs and the used hops are composted. On top of that the business is moving towards becoming completely sustainable business and already uses renewable energy from solar panels on the farm.

Ultimately, this is a lager you can really feel good about drinking.

Next up is Black Isle Brewery in the Scottish Highlands, the only organic brewery in Scotland. Based on a working farm, they grow their own barley for brewing and breed Hebridean sheep who feed off the spent grain.

Their Goldeneye pale ale has a beautiful golden colour, with a fruity aroma and rich, robust malt and marmalade flavour. We recommend it with anything spicy, smoked or BBQ’d.

David Gladwin was one of the very first craft brewers in Scotland when he started Black Isle in 1998. He saw a gap in the market for modern, fresh styles of beer to oppose the mass produced, pasteurised and ‘bland’ offerings in Scotland.

Organic is important to Black Isle; it costs three times as much for organic hops as it does for non-organic materials, but like us they are committed to organic and producing the best quality beer while looking after their beautiful Highland environment. They are also members of WWOOF (Working Worldwide On Organic Farms) if you fancy volunteering on the farm!

Our third addition is Blonde lager by Hepworth Brewery, Sussex. Clear golden in colour, the flavour is smooth, crisp and refreshing, with some lovely floral notes from the organic hops.

It’s naturally gluten free, too! This is achieved by using the best brewing practices at every stage: from choosing Sussex barley that is low in protein, to traditional floor malting and boiling the worts (the liquid extracted from the mashing process during brewing) at higher temperatures in the British-style brewhouse. Slow, cold maturation allows the beer to stabilise and the gluten to drop out, before filtering and bottling.

Lastly is a new addition from the Samuel Smith’s brewery, Perry, a sparkling pear cider.

Samuel Smith’s is brewed at the literally named Old Brewery, Tadcaster, is the oldest brewery in Yorkshire. Since 1758, ales and stouts have been brewed here using the highly mineralised water drawn from an aquifer, 85 feet below ground.

Perry has a delicate pale straw colour, smooth body, and lovely flavour – crisp yet rich, and bursting with fragrant summer pears.

All four drinks have been made by real people who really love what they do, and with a commitment to organic. As with everything we grow and sell, flavour is at the top of our list when choosing new products from small scale producers and these all get top marks. Cheers to that!