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Pumpkin Day 2016

Every year we celebrate autumn with our legendary Pumpkin Day. It’s always a big event, and this time was no different. We struck lucky with the weather: it was a crisp, clear day, just right for getting in the seasonal spirit. Everyone was wellied up and ready to have some fun.

There was a great buzz on all four farms and at our London event on Spitalfields City Farm. Thousands of visitors got stuck into pumpkin carving, tractor rides, cooking demos, farm walks, worm digging and much more, alongside live music, and, of course, lots of tasty autumnal food.

Thank you to everyone who came along and made this Pumpkin Day a big success. It’s your enthusiasm that makes it special. There were some brilliant Halloween costumes around, and lots of you got really creative in the pumpkin carving tent! We all had a great time, and hope you did too.

Have a look through some pictures or check out this video from our Devon farm, below. You might just spot yourself in there!

Archaeology and history in the fields

By John Richards, Senior Farm Manager at Wash Farm, Devon.

Walking in the countryside, for most people, involves taking in the scenery; the sky, trees, birds and other wildlife. People that work the land, however, like farmers, growers and tractor drivers, tend to spend the day mostly looking down at the ground; inspecting soil, cultivating seedbeds and growing crops (and generally fretting about yields, pests, disease etc.).

Your eye gets used to seeing the soil colour and the array of stones laid out on the soil surface but without really trying you tend to notice anything that stands out or looks a bit different. Angus, who drives our Dutch self-propelled vegetable weeding machine at Wash Farm is constantly watching the metal tines glide through the soil. He started to notice whenever flints showed up on the surface and after closer inspection and some research realised they were often flint tools worked by Stone Age man thousands of years ago. For example, tools from the Neolithic period would be 4000 to 6000 years old. These initial finds sparked an interest in history and Angus now has an impressive collection of various arrow heads and blades. Some flint fragments are not tools and have simply been chipped or split by cultivation equipment. You can always tell the ones that are tools because if you look closely you can see the tiny even marks that show where man painstakingly worked the flint shard into a usable and sharp arrow head or blade.

Moving on in location and time, to our 500-acre farm at Sacrewell near Peterborough, we have 2 historic features. In the field called ‘Toll Bar’ near the A47 are a set of enclosures, ring ditches and barrows from the Bronze Age and Iron Age period. Further in, toward the centre of the farm in a field called ‘Pit Close’ is a Roman ironworking site and the sites of two extensive Roman buildings –likely to be villas or a farmstead.

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For these two fields we entered into a stewardship agreement with Natural England where we receive a payment for establishing grassland of high biodiversity value (native grasses and wild flowers) and not ploughing for at least 10 years. This helps to avoid the archaeology being further degraded by cultivation and creates a rich and diverse habitat for wildlife. I took the photo above in May looking across Pit Close with a stunning show of oxeye daisies.

new-york-pennyI had always hoped to find a Roman coin at Sacrewell and last year I was lucky enough to spot one lying on the surface in one of the vegetable fields. Old coins are often so worn away that it is hard to identify them but this coin still had markings. I believe it is from around 160 AD and shows an image of Faustina the wife of Marcus Aurelius.

Another coin I found was in circulation between 1726 and 1794 known as a ‘Duit’ or New York Penny. These copper coins were issued by the Dutch East India Company and were used when New York was a young Dutch colony. Quite why this particular coin ended up in a field near Peterborough is a bit of a mystery.

pottery-fragment-from-a-bellarmine-jug I found an intriguing piece of pot in a field where we were growing parsnips near Dawlish in Devon. You can see in the picture the unusual face, which is from a late 16th Century Bellarmine jug, used to hold wine and beer and made in the Netherlands. The face is an image of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542 –1621) who was a bitter opponent of the Dutch Reformed Church. It was common for Protestants to express their dislike for him by smashing the jugs.

Pumpkin Day 2016. Saturday 29th October, 11am – 4pm.

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Pull on your wellies and join us on our farms this autumn for our annual Pumpkin Day. A tradition on our Devon farm for almost 20 years, our legendary Pumpkin Day is a fun, family day out and a chance to see where we grow our organic veg. Children’s activities include pumpkin carving, face painting, seed potting and vegetable games.

There’s plenty for the adults too. Listen to live music, take a stroll around our beautiful farm and perhaps do a bit of wildlife spotting, or string some chillies to make an original Christmas present. Everyone will get a sneaky first taste of our Christmas food, and we’ll be serving up plenty of glorious organic food and drink for you to buy too.

Due to growing popularity, this year we are making it a ticketed event; just a nominal price of £3, which includes a pumpkin or free drink. Limiting numbers mean we can ensure a personal, family-friendly day out.

1Following on from last year’s success, we will once again have a Pumpkin Day event in London, this year it will be at Spitalfields City Farm. You’ll also be able to meet the animals who live on the farm, including rabbits, goats and chickens.

Find out more about your local Pumpkin Day and book tickets here:
Sacrewell Farm, Peterborough
Norton Farm, Hampshire
Wash Farm, Devon – now sold out
Home Farm, Yorkshire – now sold out
Spitalfields City Farm, London. Sold out, but perhaps take a look at Sacrewell Farm or Upper Norton Farm instead – they’re not too far away.

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A rather delicious. recipe box collaboration

delicious-sept-16We’ve teamed up with the nation’s foodie magazine, delicious. for our next set of limited edition recipe boxes. Featuring vegetarian recipes selected by delicious. food editor, Rebecca Woollard, we’re really pleased to be working with the magazine’s whole editorial team, because their philosophy around cooking is very much in line with our own, as Rebecca explains: “Cooking for me is the simplest way of telling someone they’re cared for. The food you eat should be exciting for every sense – the colours on the plate invite you in, the flavours, aromas and textures keep you coming back for another bite. And above all, eating should be a way of taking care of your body and mind. The delicious. ethos isn’t about deprivation or fads, it’s about enjoying every stage of the process from chopping board to plate, and knowing that the meal you’ve cooked is doing everyone good – both physically, and mentally.”

rebeccaRebecca started cooking properly as a chalet girl in the French Alps. Returning to England from a second winter season she worked as a chef for six months, before completing the professional diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Here, she won the BBC Good Food Award. Today, as food editor for delicious., she now oversees all the recipe content in the magazine. Her favourite dishes are wide-ranging, from the herb and spice laden recipes of the Levantine, to the cheese heavy indulgence of the Alps… and she credits her mum with instilling an adventurous foodie side in her from a young age.

Recipes featured in Riverford’s delicious. recipe boxes are: Gnocchi with Pesto & Caramelised Leeks; Baked Butternut Squash with Ricotta & Spinach; Roast Tomato Salad with Feta, Pearl Barley & Herbs; Fennel, Tomato & Cheese Bake; Roast Squash & Butterbean Mash with Rosemary Breadcrumbs and Baked Eggs with Mushrooms, Potatoes, Spinach & Cheese. All the warming, comforting and seasonal; perfect as autumn sets in.

Each box contains three recipes for two, and the contents will alternate each week, so you can try them all.

The boxes will be available for delivery from October 3rd to 29th, and will include a copy of the October edition of delicious. You can order online at www.riverford.co.uk/recipeboxes or by calling the farm on 01803 227 227. The magazine team have also put together a special Riverford subscription offer; Riverford customers can get their first 3 issues of delicious for just £3 (saving 76%), using the code RIVDM16. Order today at http://delicious.subscribeonline.co.uk.

Visit delicious. magazine’s website here: http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk

Riverford meat – making it fit a little better

large butchers boxThere’s no doubt about it, people are changing how they eat meat. Whether it’s a movement away from processed meat like sausages, a switch to chicken or a shift in how much red meat they buy, there’s a clear change going on. In an independent survey we commissioned last year, 27% of people said they were eating less meat than a year previously.

We’ve always worked to be a forward-looking business, so after talking to our customers, we’ve made some changes to our meat range to make it suit you better. If you don’t buy meat from us regularly then you may not know about what’s different, so here’s a quick summary of what we’ve done:

  • Reduced the minimum meat spend to £17.50 (was £25). As you are eating less meat, this makes sense. Fewer people want to buy a big batch of meat, so we’ve made it easier for you to get a little bit at a time.
  • Introduced new ‘everyday’ meat boxes in two sizes, packed with easy cooking cuts like mince, diced meat, prime steaks and chicken breasts.
  • Introduced a new ‘butchers’ meat box in two sizes, designed for meat fans and keen cooks. It contains a mixture of interesting cuts including a roasting joint (often slow roasts like pork belly and brisket), stewing cuts, prime steaks and chicken breasts, plus seasonal specials such as venison.
  • Chicken will appear more often in all our meat boxes, as requested in customer feedback.
  • The new meat range was planned in collaboration with our Riverford chefs, to ensure that what you get meets recipe needs, such as the typical weight of meat needed. They are constantly helping us to refine the range too, just as they do with our veg boxes.

What hasn’t changed:

  • All of our meat is still 100% British and 100% organic, produced by farmers who we work with in the long term, agreeing prices in advance and sticking with them.
  • We still always buy the whole carcass from our farmers, and we designed the new meat box contents very carefully to ensure we use up every last cut while still giving you what you say you would like. No waste here!
  • All of the meat is expertly prepared in the Riverford butchery, near our farm in south Devon.
  • You can still build your own bespoke order of meat as before; you just have to hit that £17.50 minimum spend.
  • All your meat will still be delivered in insulated, recyclable, reusable packaging, that will keep cool on your doorstep if you are not home for delivery.

Want to see what’s in our meat boxes this week? Take a look at our new meat boxes range here.

large everyday meatbox

Ethical eggs: organic vs. free range

What do you picture when you hear the words ‘free range’? Bright, spacious hen houses? Small flocks roaming on green pastures? If these are the sort of idyllic images that spring to mind, you’re not alone. Thanks to some well-publicised media campaigns in recent years, many people are now aware of the terrible suffering experienced by caged laying hens. Fewer people understand that free range, whilst better than caging, does not guarantee the highest standard of welfare for hens; nor the healthiest option for ourselves.

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It is worth understanding the difference between free range and organic. Organic farming isn’t just about avoiding artificial chemicals; it’s a holistic ethos that encompasses a profound respect for our livestock as well as the land. Compassion in World Farming states that organic farms certified by the Soil Association offer the highest standards of animal welfare of any system. Many people choose to buy free range eggs with the best of intentions. However, only buying organic guarantees you a high welfare hen, and eggs that are free from chemical nasties.

Here are some of the ways that organic goes further than free range:

More space, fewer hens
Organic hens get 10m2 of pasture per bird. Inside the houses, a maximum density of 6 birds per m2 is permitted. Flocks can be no larger than 2000, and can be as low as 500.

fieldFree range hens get less than half that amount of pasture per bird (4m2), and pack 50% more hens into the same living space (9 per m2). Their flocks can be any size; a single hangar can contain tens of thousands of hens.

Real freedom to roam
Organic farms must provide plenty of ‘pop holes’ (exits from the hen house) to ensure that their hens have easy and continuous access to the outdoors. The pasture is rested for at least 9 months between flocks to allow vegetatchicken-in-shadowion to grow back and prevent the build-up of disease in the soil.

Free range farms don’t have to provide a specific number of pop holes, and their pasture need only be rested for a meagre 2 months. This can leave free range hens with restricted access to a bare, muddy, parasite-ridden pasture. No wonder many so-called ‘free range’ birds spend little time outside.

No beak-trimming
Beak-trimming is commonplace in free range systems. To prevent stressed birds from pecking each other, the front third of chicks’ beaks are removed using infrared burners – without anaesthetic. The Soil Association strictly forbids this painful and mutilating practice.

No nasty surprises
Free range hens can routinely be fed anti-biotics to pre-empt illness, and are often given GM feeds.

Love your hens!
It seems like a no-brainer to us: happy hens lay better eggs – and eggs that you can feel better about eating. But how can you guarantee that your eggs come from hens that are well cared for?

Labels can be very misleading. Discerning buyers must wade through a sea of carefully crafted language (‘farm fresh’, ‘barn reared’, ‘corn fed’) and bucolic images that bear little relation to the reality of life behind the box. The only way to trust the ethical credentials of your egg is to trust the producer. That’s why Riverford has built close relationships with our organic egg farmers, Jerry Saunders and Duncan Janaway.

Wherevfeeding-chickenser possible, Jerry and Duncan go above and beyond the Soil Association’s already rigorous standards. Their hens have a fantastic quality of life. They live in small flocks, and spend 365 days a year pottering freely on rich pasture. There is grass and clover for them to forage in, trees, shelters, and sand pits for scratching. The hens are encouraged to leave their houses each morning and engage in natural behaviours. They get plenty of human interaction, being checked on and chatted to throughout the day. Everything they’re fed is organic – including some of Riverford’s graded out veg! See these lucky hens for yourself.

counting-eggsMaintaining this high standard takes extra resources. By understanding this, and paying a little more for their eggs, our customers allow Jerry and Duncan to keep taking such good care of their birds. Hens are not machines; it’s not natural for them to produce eggs that are all completely uniform. By accepting mixed boxes that include the smaller eggs laid by younger hens and the larger, paler eggs laid by older ones, our customers prevent waste, and allow the hens to enjoy longer lives.

In return for this, Riverford customers get organic eggs that are tasty as well as trustworthy: fresh, full of flavour, and laid by a hen who couldn’t be happier.

chickens&jerry

Choose organic
Of the 12.2 billion eggs eaten in this country in 2015, only 2% were organic. We need to do better by our hens. For a truly ethical egg, please buy Soil Association-approved organic. Look for the S.A.’s label on the box: they audit every stage of the production process, so you can be confident in the quality of the eggs and the welfare behind them.

Like the sound of our Soil Association-approved organic eggs? Buy your own from our website:
http://www.riverford.co.uk/shop/dairy/mixed-eggs-half-dozen

For Laydilay’s organic mayonnaise made with happy hens’ eggs:
http://www.riverford.co.uk/shop/farm-shop/mayonnaise-250g

To learn more about organic farming, visit the Soil Association:
https://www.soilassociation.org/

…and Compassion in World Farming:
http://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/chickens/egg-laying-hens/higher-welfare/

Coming soon – The Riverford Recipe Channel

Our new recipe channel is now live! Visit https://www.youtube.com/user/riverfordorganicveg for all round veg inspiration.

recipe channel header

Next week we will be launching a new recipe channel on YouTube, designed to be the go-to place for anyone who needs to get to grips with the green stuff. Whether you need a little help getting through your veg box or just fancy trying something different for dinner tonight, we are planning on having something there for you.

If you’ve been with us a while you will know that we go for inspirational rather than aspirational cooking; we reckon our job as farmers, cooks, and veg nerds is to show you just how exciting and easy cooking with vegetables can be. Guy and our team of cooks here on the farm are total veg experts and they will do just that with recipes including Kale, Fruit & Nut Pilaf, Thai Sweetcorn Fritters, Courgette Kuku and Radicchio & Bacon Pasta. If you’ve eaten at the Riverford Field Kitchen Restaurant here on the farm in Devon, it’s likely you already know how making veg the star of the plate is at the heart of what we do.

All the dishes will be very ‘Riverford’; heavy on the veg, mostly vegetarian or using meat as a seasoning, and designed for flavourful home cooking that will truly broaden your veg horizons. You’ll find plenty of beautiful vegan recipes there too. In addition to specific recipes we will be creating ‘How to…’ videos for every single vegetable we sell, so soon you’ll be flying through that pile of courgettes or bag of beetroot! We’ll be releasing new videos every week, so make sure you subscribe to the channel – you’ll get an alert every time there’s something new to get stuck into. The videos will be shared on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages, and we’d love to hear from you if you have any video suggestions.

It’s been a very busy few months filming them here on the farm; we hope you like what you see and that these videos and those that follow will help more people than ever to live life on the veg with Riverford!

Ben’s news: Wine with a story (to go with your veg)

My brother Guy might know his onions, but he’d be the first to admit wine isn’t his thing, and he’s happy to leave it to me. Outside the world of big brands and supermarkets, wine is the benchmark agricultural product. Done right (as ours are) it is simply grapes, grown under a nurturing farmer’s eye, minimally processed, and sent to you, via us, in a bottle. We don’t have a big list, but we aim to keep it interesting and in tune with the Riverford offer – and to work with producers we’re getting to know. Here are a few new wines for the summer; a couple are a little off the wall but we thought them too good not to try. All 100% organic too of course.

Who’s ever heard of frappato? It’s a red grape indigenous to south east Sicily and in days gone by, they’d have had a bottle waiting, lightly chilled, for the tuna boats to come in. These days it’s more likely to be a sardine boat. Outside its affinity with oily fish it’s a red wine pretending to be white; good with all sorts of vegetable dishes, from caponata to spring risotto. Equally summery (and red) is Moinho do Gato from Quinta do Romeu in Portugal. Good for a summer lunch or picnic. Nothing fancy – just a lovely glass of wine.

If there was a wine of the decade award it would have to go to Picpoul de Pinet, a kind of southern French Muscadet – good with shellfish. Olivier Azan, of Domaine de Petit Roubie’s farm is a bit like Riverford 30 years ago, with family members and relics of old ideas all over the place, together with a couple of caravans and a fair bit of rusty corrugated iron. It immediately felt like home and I was desperate to put off the long drive back to Blighty. Another great find is Chardonnay Terroir 11300 from Domaine Begude near Carcassone. It couldn’t be more different. Owned by Englishman James Kingslake it’s about as idyllic as it gets. Rosbifs abroad might not seem like fertile Riverford hunting ground but that’s the great thing about wine and its makers – they come in all guises. James is a perfectionist, who uses the best grapes and lets them do the talking. You can be a non-interventionalist in a traditional, or a modern way. They both have their merits and that’s the wonderful thing about wine. All that really matters is that we enjoy drinking it.

Ben Watson

Introducing our next recipe box guest chef… Sarah Raven

Sarah-Raven-Jonathan-BuckleySarah Raven is an authoritative and passionate gardener as well as an award winning cookery writer, best known for her sweet peas, her gardening courses, and her appearances on BBC’s Gardener’s World. She is also an outstanding seasonal cook, whose recipes and ideas for rethinking food are informed by her years as a doctor, and are inspired by the fruit and vegetables she grows at Perch Hill, her cooking and gardening school in East Sussex.

“I want every dish I eat to look good, be good to eat and do me good. If you go about it the right way, you can eat wonderful food which also has a positive effect on your health, and makes you live longer and feel better,” Sarah explains.

Riverford-vegetarian-recipe-box

The recipes featured in our new recipe boxes come from Sarah’s new cook book, Good Good Food, which is full of wholesome recipes with an emphasis on using fresh, seasonal ingredients and getting creative with fruit and veg – a good match with our own approach to food.

“I love the whole philosophy of Riverford; farm-grown organic food, supplied as directly as possible from the field to the customers’ plates. That’s what food should be about and the fresher the food, the more nutrition it has in it too.” says Sarah.

As well as being an inspirational teacher, Sarah also writes on gardening for The Telegraph, Country Living, Gardeners’ World Magazine in addition to her own award-winning gardening and cookery books.

Recipes featured in Riverford’s Sarah Raven recipe boxes are:
Tomato and Poppy Seed Tart, Sangria Chicken, Shaksuka with Chickpeas, Sweet and Sour Vegetable Curry, Chicken Puttanesca and Summer Veg Stir Fry.

Each box contains three recipes for two, and the contents will alternate each week, so you can try them all! Keep an eye out for our Sarah Raven competition on social media too.

The boxes are available to order from the 18th of June for delivery from the 20th June – 15th July. You can order online at www.riverford.co.uk/recipeboxes or by calling the farm on 01803 227 227.

To find out more about Sarah Raven, visit www.sarahraven.com.

Ben’s meat newsletter: Sandwiches & BBQ’d lamb

First a quick rant. What’s the problem with the sandwich? Everybody seems to be sticking the knife in. It’s great news that sales of ‘made up’ sandwiches are on the wane; a mishmash of E number enhanced fillings, placed between slices of mushy, stodgy white bread about a week before eating doesn’t have much to recommend it. It’s truly staggering how many E numbers they can fit in a sandwich. However, this isn’t to say there aren’t some great sandwiches out there for the making. Judging by Jay Rayner and Henry Dimbleby on Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet last week, the anti sandwich movement has become a stampede. Pair this with the gluten free thing we’re not allowed to mention (out of respect to coeliacs) and you have a coalition that could well take over Europe. My point is that just because most bought sandwiches are pretty bad, that doesn’t mean we have to rule out the whole genre. Fergus Henderson, of St Johns, took the bacon sandwich to the pearly gates of organoleptic heaven and Brindisa Tapas, of Borough Market, did the same with their ciabatta, chorizo, rocket and piquillo pepper combo. I’m not ashamed to admit to a soft spot for a Riverford ham and Tracklements English mustard sandwich (Colman’s is a bit strong so you can’t give it a good slathering – and don’t spare the butter), and you can’t beat a leftovers sandwich; roast chicken and stuffing, beef and horseradish, pork and apple sauce… the list goes on. It’s as much to do with texture as taste so add a bit of crunch with lightly toasted bread, salad leaves etc. I’m sure Messrs Rayner and Dimbleby would exclude various pitta and kebab concoctions from their general condemnation – which rather proves the point that they’re scaping the wrong goat.

As BBQ season gets into full swing, two welcome new additions to the range are baby back ribs and boneless butterflied lamb leg. Back ribs are the cut from the top of the ribs adjoining the loin so, although lean, they don’t take as much cooking as spare ribs from the belly and shoulder. I’d still be inclined to give them an hour or so in the oven on a minimum setting to get the cooking process started and ensure the meat slips off the bone. Butterflied leg of lamb is definitely the cream of the BBQ crop. Cooking steaks on BBQs is notoriously risky. It’s far easier to sear the muscles whole, allow to cook through to your liking, and then slice into thin steaks. There’s a recipe on the website for Grilled Leg of Lamb with Swiss Chard and Anchovy Gratin. Here’s a simplified version of the lamb part adapted for the BBQ.

BBQ Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Serves 2-3, prep 10 mins (plus overnight marinating), cook 35 mins

3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 boneless butterflied lamb leg

First prepare the lamb. Mix together the garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, olive oil and a little seasoning to make a marinade. Place the lamb in a large dish, pour over the marinade and leave at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight, turning the meat every now and then. Remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Preheat a BBQ or char-grill to high. Cook on the BBQ/char-grill for 10 mins, turning every couple of mins. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered with foil or an upside down wok (the dog bowl works well) for 10 mins for medium, or until cooked to your liking. Transfer to a plate and loosely wrap with foil. Set aside for 15 mins to rest, then serve.