Tag Archives: Riverford

Pancake day Riverford style

With Pancake Day fast approaching we thought we’d offer a little inspiration for how to do Shrove Tuesday the Riverford way. Although the classic lemon and sugar combo takes a lot of beating, we think our veg-packed savoury pancakes are pretty good contenders.

The key to a good pancake is to use an oil suitable for frying at high temperatures, and without a strong flavour, such as sunflower or groundnut oil. Plain flour can be substituted for buckwheat, which goes particularly well with savoury fillings; in France, crêpes are usually made with buckwheat. It’s also gluten-free.

The possibilities for savoury fillings are as broad as your imagination, but here are a few of our favourites. They are, of course, are all about the veg!

souffled broccoli & stilton pancakes

prep & cook 50 mins, serves 2

Souffled-Broccoli-&-Stilton-Pancakes

110g buckwheat flour
100g purple sprouting broccoli (or calabrese)
50g watercress
3 eggs
500ml milk
50g butter
1 tsp dijon or coarse grain mustard
75g stilton

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Scoop 2 good tsp of the buckwheat flour into a small bowl or mug and keep to one side. Wash the purple sprouting broccoli and watercress. Next, make the pancake batter; start by putting the remaining flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Crack in 1 of the eggs. Add a good splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually whisk in more milk, until you’ve used half of the milk, whisking as you go. Whisk in 2 tbsp cold water.

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/180˚C/gas 5. Melt ½ the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat once the butter has melted. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter and oil to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium-high heat for 1 ½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing. Carefully turn with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for another min, until golden underneath. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes. Grease a baking dish with a tiny bit of the remaining butter, just about ⅕.

Melt the rest of the butter in a pan, add the reserved flour and cook gently, stirring, for 2 mins. Lower the heat right down and gradually whisk in the ⅔ of the remaining milk. Increase the heat slightly and stir until the sauce has thickened. Add the mustard, crumble in the stilton and season to taste. Leave to cool for 3 mins. Meanwhile, boil the broccoli in the pan of water for 3 mins. Drain.

Divide the remaining 2 eggs into yolks and whites. Stir the egg yolks and drained broccoli into the sauce. In a separate bowl (wash and use the pancake batter bowl), whisk the 2 egg whites until they form soft, but firm peaks. Fold a large spoonful of the egg white into the broccoli mixture, not worrying too much about the air bubbles, then very carefully fold in the rest, keeping as much air in the mix as you can. Put the pancakes in a baking dish and spoon some of the veg mixture down the middle of each pancake. Fold the over on both sides to make an open ended parcel. Bake for approx 20 mins, depending on your oven, until the top of the pancake has crisped up and the middle expanded and puffed up.

Pick any very larger stalks off the watercress. Serve with the pancakes, when cooked.

chilli bean & veg pancakes

prep & cook 45 mins, serves 2

Chilli-Bean-&-Veg-Pancakes

1 onion
oil for frying eg sunflower or light olive
1 courgette
1 red pepper
1 carrot
2 garlic cloves
100g buckwheat flour
1 egg
500ml milk
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp dried thyme
1 dried chilli – add to taste
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 tin of red kidney beans
50g salad leaves
25g butter
yogurt, to serve

Peel and finely dice the onion. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a good-sized, heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion and fry on a low heat, stirring now and then, for 10 mins, until soft and translucent without colouring. Meanwhile, cut trim the top of the courgette and cut into small dice (approx 1cm, keep them small so they cook in time). Cut the pepper in ½, deseed and cut into similar sized dice. Wash, peel and finely dice the carrot. Peel and finely chop, grate or crush 2 garlic cloves. After 10 mins, add the courgette, pepper and carrot to the onion. Gently fry for 5 mins, stirring now and then.

While the veg cooks, make the pancake batter: put the 100g of flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Crack in the egg. Add a good splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually whisk in more milk, until you’ve used ½ of the carton, whisking as you go. Whisk in 3 tbsp cold water.

Next, add the garlic, cumin, coriander and dried thyme to the veg. Chop the dried chilli in ½ and crumble in ½. Fry for 2 mins. Add the tomato purée and cook for 1 min. Add the tin of tomatoes. Season and stir well. Simmer for 20 mins, until the veg is tender. Taste halfway through and add more chilli if you like. As soon as you add the tinned tomatoes, drain the kidney beans into a colander. Rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Add ½ the beans to the tomato and veg as soon as you’ve done this (keep the rest in a tub in the fridge. Use in lunchbox salads or other meals within 2 days).

Next, make the pancakes: melt the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat once the butter has melted. Put your oven on low: 140˚C/120˚C/gas mark 2. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter and oil to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium-high heat for 1 ½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing. Carefully turn with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for another minute, until golden underneath. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes. Cover the plate with foil and in the oven to keep the pancakes warm. Once the veg in the chilli bean sauce is tender, check the seasoning, then fill the pancakes. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and salad leaves.

leek & mushroom buckwheat pancakes, with watercress salad

prep & cook 35 mins, serves 2

Leek-&-Mushroom-Buckwheat-Pancakes-with-Watercress-Salad

1 large leek
50g butter, ½ for pancakes, ½ for filling
200g mushrooms
110g buckwheat flour
50g watercress
1 egg
500ml milk, ½ for pancakes, ½ for filling
1 teaspoon dried thyme
75g grated grated cheddar cheese
oil for frying eg sunflower or light olive
1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Wash the leek, cut in half lengthways and finely shred it. Heat ½ the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the leeks and fry on a very low heat for 10 mins, stirring now and then, until soft but not coloured. If they start to catch, add a splash of water and turn the heat down.

Meanwhile, put your oven on a low heat 140˚C/120˚C/gas mark 2. Remove 2 good tsp of the buckwheat flour to a small bowl or mug and keep to one side. Next make the pancake batter: put the 100g of flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Crack in the egg. Add a good splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually whisk in more milk, until you’ve used ½ of the carton, whisking as you go. Whisk in 2 tbsp cold water.
Once the leeks have cooked for 10 mins, add the mushrooms and dried thyme. Cook for 3 mins, stirring now and then. Add the reserved 2 tsp of flour. Stir for 2 mins. Gradually stir in the rest of the milk carton. Add the cheese and gently heat until the mixture has thickened slightly. Remove from the heat.

Melt the rest of the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat once the butter has melted. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter and oil to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium-high heat for 1 ½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing. Carefully turn with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for another minute, until golden underneath. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes. Keep warm in the oven. Gently reheat the leek & mushroom mixture. Stir in the Dijon mustard and season to taste. Fill the pancakes with the mixture and serve with the watercress.

Find organic lemons, sugar, or milk for your pancakes, or choose from our organic veg for a savoury twist.

Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on protein

“Dad, how can you call yourself an environmentalist, and still sell meat?”. First one daughter, then the other, then even my previously carnivorous sons joined in. Their epiphany was brought on by the documentary Cowspiracy; it is smug, irritating and outrageously one-sided in its selection of evidence and ends with an unjustified and ill-considered swipe at Greenpeace. However, despite my irritation, I would agree (uncomfortably for someone selling meat) that no thinking person can reasonably claim to be an environmentalist, or even a humanist, while continuing to eat more than very small amounts of animal protein; most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.

Climate change-wise the arguments are complex, involving ruminant methane emissions, deforestation for grazing and soya production, methane and nitrous oxide emitting manure heaps and soil, intensive versus extensive farming methods and more. As our planet is so diverse in soils, topography, ecology, diet and agricultural methods, it’s unwise to be dogmatic anyway. However, after weeks scouring scientific papers, we have reached the following initial conclusions:

  • Livestock agriculture contributes 10-12% of manmade climate change; arguably as much as every car, plane, truck and ship on the planet.
  • Livestock agriculture is grossly inefficient and requires 5-10 times more land to feed ourselves than a vegan diet; there just isn’t enough land to go round. OK it’s not that simple; there may well be a credible argument for animals grazing permanent pastures on land unsuited for growing crops for humans, to produce high quality, high welfare meat and dairy, as with most organic farming, but we will have to eat much less of it.

Alongside this are all the health, animal welfare, pollution and antibiotic resistance arguments against eating meat; hard to quantify, but very real. There will be exceptions, but the general conclusion is inescapable; for the good of us and our planet, we must collectively eat much less animal protein. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the issue and suggesting ways to nudge any committed carnivores away from some of their meat. I hope you’ll feel compelled to join us.

Guy Watson

Visit www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat to join the debate, take our ‘drop a day’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.

Guy’s Newsletter: hasty veg & a bitter imposition

We are finally enjoying some very welcome cold, dry and bright weather. It will take another week before our most free-draining land dries enough to allow any soil preparation for planting though; spring still feels a long way off. Most winter crops are running four to six weeks ahead of schedule due to the mild winter so far, while our other fields look worryingly bare; it will be three or four months before the spring crops are ready. We still have plenty of roots, kale and leeks, but there will be gaps left by the hasty cauliflowers and cabbages, so we will have to juggle our box contents planning a little.

In contrast to this, over on our farm in France a break in the weather allowed us to plant the first batavia lettuce this week, as the sandy soils there are more forgiving. The first cos lettuce will go into the ground tomorrow; the seed bed was prepared and covered back in October, avoiding the need for any cultivation now when it is difficult to get machinery on the wet land. We plant by hand this early in the year, but still need a tractor to bend hoops and lay the low-level polytunnels that will protect and advance the crop, allowing us to start cutting in late March. Overall our farm in the Vendée has come a long way to filling the UK’s Hungry Gap, but it looks as if that gap might be wider than usual this year. Thankfully, after five years on our own, an organic neighbour will be growing spinach for your boxes in late April and May.

Most of the crop planning for the coming season is done, and seeds and plants ordered with just a few details to refine; I would be grateful if some of you could pass comment on the pale green, solid-ish, bitter and crunchy heads of pain de sucre (salad chicory) that have been in some boxes over the last month. I love growing and eating them and they provide some winter variety without the need to go 1000 miles south, but is this a bitter imposition or do you like them too? There is a very, very brief questionnaire at www.riverford.co.uk/paindesucre; I am just as keen to hear from the haters as the lovers.

Guy Watson

Riverford veg delivery to refugees in Calais

Riverford veg man and lady, Ged and Susie Campbell, recently travelled to Calais loaded with Riverford veg to help a community kitchen for the refugees. The couple run the Southwark territory in London. We wanted to share Susie’s story:

Ged and I have a friend called Steve who is setting up a Refugee Community Kitchen with a few other friends in Calais. They asked for help from any friends that have contacts within the catering and food industry. I asked if they wanted fresh organic veg, and of course he said yes please!

loaded-with-Riverford-vegWe caught the Eurotunnel to Calais and the first thing we noticed was the vast amount of razor wire everywhere, what a welcome! We arrived at the warehouse around lunchtime and unloaded half a ton of fresh root veg including potatoes, carrots, swede, parsnips, onions, beetroot and a tray full of garlic. I also had a bag of veg peelers, loads of stock cubes and stock pots, brown sugar, olive oil, herbs and spices, socks and hats, snacks and a few toiletries. The garlic was instantly whisked off to treat people with infections as they don’t have antibiotic pills.

camp

Steve showed us around and introduced us to some of the volunteers. The enormity of the operation hit us. The huge scale of sorting through donations so they are ready to hand out to those who need them most was overwhelming.

donated-tentsUnfortunately, half the warehouse was taken up with bin bags full of clothes that cannot be used because they are inappropriate for the people and conditions. There were skimpy girls tops, skirts, dirty underwear (yes really), stilettoes, and too many kids clothes. It all needs to be brought back to the UK and sold (Cash for Clothes will give 40p per kilo). What they really need is wind up lanterns and torches to avoid candle fires in the tents at the camp known as the ‘Jungle’. Also, with the wet weather they need winter footwear, not trainers.

ged-and-susie-sorting-firewoodgedWe visited the camp and wandered about for half an hour or so. We helped by sorting firewood and folding a few tarps into piles. There are makeshift shelters and tents in ruins all over the place. The sun was out and people were building new shelters with pallets. The ground is very muddy and uneven with concrete boulders – not a place to be walking about after dark. Litter is everywhere and the toilets stink; the idea of having to live here for longer than a weekend is unimaginable.

barbersvillage-shopThe Afghans had organised the main drag with a few shops, food stalls and even a barbers. There weren’t many women about but we went to the family centre and handed out the rest of our snacks to whoever was around. My fear is that in a few weeks, or even days, the weather will get colder and these people will have no medical supplies to heal their ailments. Coughs, colds, flu, infections, sick children, sore feet and trauma paired with not knowing how long you have to stay here would be enough to kill anyone’s spirit.

Back at the aid warehouse Steve and his team were fixing shelving for the thousands of tinned food donations; they’ve received rice, tea bags, pulses, salt and various other dried food. We helped sort through tins to make it easier to make up food parcels to take to camp. Bags were being packed with oil, tinned tomatoes, onion, salt and a few other items to be taken to camp the next day.

Our veg will be cooked and the nourishing hot meals will be served out of a van in the Jungle as soon as they are ready. I hope we can do another van load of Riverford produce before Christmas.

12 veg of Christmas – 5 cauliflower recipes

Guy says
After years in the culinary doldrums, condemned by sulphurous memories of sccauliflower-4hool dinners, cauliflower is back; and quite rightly so. Treated kindly, this sturdy brassica is fit for a feast and is much prized in Italy, Asia and Africa – in fact most places apart from where it grows best: in the UK. Cauliflowers love our damp, mild maritime climate, particularly in the mild West. Here are a few options for making the most of it over Christmas.

5 of the best cauliflower recipes:

cauliflower, butterbeans & kale

Serves 2
A robust winter salad, this is best served warm or at room temperature so that the flavours from the dressing have a chance to infuse. For a heartier meal, eat with slices of cold roast beef or topped with a sizzling pork chop.

cauliflower-butter-beans-and-kale200g cooked butter beans
1 cauliflower, cut into small florets
100g red Russian kale, blanched, squeezed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
leaves from a small bunch of tarragon or flat-leaf
parsley, roughly chopped
wholegrain mustard, to taste
vinaigrette, to taste
salt and black pepper

If you are cooking the beans yourself, add a good pinch of salt when they have become tender and let them sit in their cooking water for 30 minutes off the heat. If using tinned, heat them gently but thoroughly in their liquid and a dash of water. Lightly steam or boil the cauliflower. Drain the beans and put them into a bowl with the cauliflower, kale, capers, herbs, a generous blob of mustard and a good drizzle of vinaigrette and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Variation
This is a great way to use up leftover or tinned pulses; lentils and flageolet and haricot beans will all work well – or for a more varied texture try a combination of all three.

roasted cauliflower with butter, lemon and cumin

serves 4 as a side
The cumin gives this dish an Indian feel but the spicing is so subtle that it works in the most traditional of meals. The flavour combination suits roasted parsnips too.

roasted-cauliflower-with-butter-and-lemon1 cauliflower, split into florets
zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus the juice of another
80g butter, diced
2 rounded tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or 2 tsp ready-ground cumin)
handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5. Season the cauliflower with salt and pepper and spread it out in a roasting tin. Roast in the oven for 12–15 minutes until lightly golden. Cover with foil if it’s browning too much. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir in the butter, cumin and lemon zest and roast for a further 3–5 minutes, until tender but so it still has bite. Remove the tin from the oven and stir in the parsley, then add the remaining lemon juice a little at a time to taste.

Variations
• For extra spiciness add 1 teaspoon of ground coriander and nigella (black onion) seeds with the cumin.
• Replace the cumin with dried or fresh thyme leaves.
• Swap the cumin for chopped garlic and chilli flakes (or chopped fresh chilli) and the parsley for fresh coriander leaves.

whole roasted cauliflower with almonds & garlic

serves 4

whole-roasted-cauliflower1 cauliflower
olive oil for roasting
sea salt & ground black pepper
50g flaked almonds
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 tbsp dry sherry
3 tbsp parsley, roughly chopped

Cut off any green leaves from the cauliflower and trim the core so it sits flat in a baking dish. Drizzle over just enough oil to cover the top of the cauliflower. Sprinkle over a little sea salt. Roast at 200°C until the top is golden brown and the cauliflower is just tender, about 1 hour. Keep it warm in the oven. Put the almonds in a frying pan and heat gently until toasted. Add the oil and garlic and fry for a min or two. Add the paprika and dry sherry and cook to reduce the liquid slightly. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Present the cauliflower whole at the table, then cut into thin slices and drizzle over the almonds to serve.

saffron poached chicken with cauliflower couscous, dates & pine nuts

serves 4, prep 15 mins, cook 20 mins

saffron-poached-chick-and-cauliflower½ tsp saffron threads
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
4 chicken breasts, skin removed

for the couscous:
1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, cut into florets
1 garlic clove, crushed
large handful finely chopped parsley
small handful finely chopped mint
100g pine nuts, toasted in a dry frying pan until golden
200g dates, pitted & chopped
1 tbsp sherry or good white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp good olive oil
1 tbsp honey
100g mixed winter salad leaves

Put the saffron, carrot, celery and bay leaves in a saucepan. Add 1½ litres water, bring to a simmer and add the chicken (make sure it is completely covered with water). Simmer for approx 30 mins, until cooked. Leave to cool in the pan, then take the chicken out and tear or chop into pieces. Pulse the cauli in a food processor until it looks like couscous (or chop very finely if you don’t have a processor). Transfer to a large bowl. Mix in the garlic, herbs, pine nuts and dates. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk together the vinegar, lemon, oil and honey and mix into the cauliflower. Toss in the chicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning, lemon and oil if needed. Serve with the salad leaves.

gluten-free cauliflower & almond gratin

serves 4 as a main course, 6 or more as a side dish, prep 10 mins, cook 45 mins
Keep the lighter green leaves on your cauliflower for colour and flavour. Serve with rice or quinoa and cooked kale or cabbage, or roasted roots. Using a whisk to make any béchamel or cheese sauce is easier and gets a smoother result than stirring with a spoon.

caulifloer-and-almond-gratin1 large cauli, cut in ½ then each ½ into 6-8 large wedges, keeping the stalk & any lighter inner leaves intact
50g butter
50g rice flour (or use another starchy gluten-free flour, eg. potato)
500ml unsweetened almond milk
100g grated cheddar cheese, plus a little extra for sprinkling
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard (check it doesn’t have any gluten, some do)
2 small handfuls flaked almonds

Preheat your oven to 220˚C/200˚C fan/gas mark 6. Steam or boil the cauliflower and leaves for 4 mins. Drain and put to one side, so any excess moisture evaporates off. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour and stir on a very low heat for 2 mins. Remove from the heat, add 3-4 tbsp of the almond milk and whisk together to make a thick smooth paste. Gradually add the rest of the milk, whisking all the time, until the sauce is smooth. Return to the heat, add the cheese and gently heat for a few mins, until the cheese has melted and the sauce thickened. Stir in the mustard and season to taste. Put the cauli in a baking dish. Pour over the sauce and sprinkle over a little extra cheese. Bake for 15 mins. Sprinkle over the almonds and bake for a further 10-15 mins or so, until the almonds are golden.

Visit the recipe pages on our website for further recipes, or add organic cauliflower to your order.

For more ideas for a Christmas rich in veg, download our seasonal booklet full of recipes and tips from our Riverford cooks and you, our customers. Available to download here: www.riverford.co.uk/christmas-veg.

Pumpkin Day 2015 – rain did not stop play!

Every year our legendary pumpkin day is a big event here at Riverford, and this year was no different. Despite a little rain, everyone was wellied-up and in true autumn spirit.

We welcomed over 6000 people across our four farms, along with our new London event which we held at Vauxhall City Farm.
The day saw visitors get involved in pumpkin carving, tractor rides, farm walks, worm digging and much more; alongside the activities was live music, including a fantastic ukulele band, and lots of tasty autumnal food.

“Every year I’m overwhelmed with how much people enjoy Pumpkin Day, there’s always such a buzz on the farm. Thank you to all who came and made this year as special as the last.” said Guy.

This year we opened our poly tunnel on our Devon farm, to show off the fantastic herbs and edible flowers we grow for the Riverford Field Kitchen Restaurant. We also introduced cookery demos, and onion stringing, which were both a huge success. As with every year, we saw some terrific pumpkins carved too!

Have a look through some pictures below:

Guy’s Newsletter: freaks; where would we be without them?

Three weeks of gloom and relentless rain have caused a few problems with weeding and harvesting, but have done little to dampen our spirits here on the farm; with most of the planting finished, 2015 still looks like being a very good year. A bright September would allow us to get on top of the weeds, harvest in good conditions and ripen the tomatoes and squash, but sunny or not it will be the Soil Association’s Organic September. With organic sales rising again, my wife Geetie and I have been asked to give a talk in London as ‘organic pioneers’. Musing on this, I realise that there were plenty who came before us.

When I converted three acres of my parent’s farm 30 years ago and planted my first organic vegetables, I was clueless; I spent every spare moment visiting the real organic pioneers, some of whom had been quietly growing, experimenting and philosophising, largely in isolation, since the sixties. One used only horsepower and had taken the engine out of his only tractor to pull it more easily with a team of horses; one produced organic grain and beef very successfully for 20 years without ever charging a premium or even saying it was organic, explaining to me that, “there are no pockets in a shroud, Guy”; another devoted much of his life to developing a revolutionary cultivator and seed drill called the sod seeder; “It will make herbicides and the plough redundant,” he confidently predicted, but sadly it never really worked; another kept very happy pigs in the woods and would have moved in with them if his wife had allowed it. I was always welcomed, taken in, shown around, advised, fed and given a bed; there was never fear of shared knowledge leading to competition as no-one was in it for the money anyway; they just wanted to change the world. Most were pretty nuts but amid the madness were gems of creativity, genius and profound sanity.

Those pioneers shared an uncompromising, obsessive, anarchic view of the world and a deep commitment to finding a better way of farming; they were the freaks on the fringe whose difficult questions start movements. Some have refined their skills to become successful commercial farmers, some are consultants, counsellors or tai-chi teachers, a few have inevitably made use of the shroud; I doubt they had much to put in the pockets, but without their questions and generosity of spirit, Riverford would not exist to celebrate Organic September.

Guy Watson

Riverford veg boxes – Ethical Product of the Decade

We are all beyond thrilled to have been given this title by the Observer Ethical Awards 2015. We were up against some truly deserving competition such as the Fairtrade banana, whom we support and respect and who would have been a very worthy winner, along with Divine chocolate which I have long admired for their unerring commitment to their producers. But we can’t help being delighted that it was us.

For almost 30 years, I have aimed to use the business to make the world a slightly better place, one veg box at a time. Put simply we want to give people good, fresh, flavoursome, ethically-produced food that they can trust, produced and delivered in a way that gives a fair deal to farmers, animals, customers, staff and the environment. This means not going for easy answers (which are nearly always the ones that would be better from a marketing point of view), but looking for an informed and balanced solution to the many dilemmas we face in farming, business and food production. This often challenges our customers’ intuitive judgements and our success as a business would have been impossible without the trust and commitment of our many longstanding customers; they enable us to farm and trade with others for the long-term, as we would really like.

Vegetables are at the heart of what we do, and we are happy to be called veg nerds. As well as our four organic UK farms and one in France, we work with South Devon Organic Producers, the cooperative of local family farms I set up, sharing machinery and expertise to show that it is absolutely possible to grow good food at scale, without using environmentally harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides. Everything that we grow is selected for flavour; our carrots taste so good because they are selected and grown to be so, rather than to grow fast or to withstand bulk handling or to be cosmetically perfect. Our meat also comes from small-scale organic farmers with some of the highest animal welfare standards around. We aim for the shortest possible journey from the farm to the abattoir, with all meat handled in a totally transparent operation, with minimum processing and zero abusive practice at any stages. We encourage a ‘meat and ten veg’ attitude to meat consumption: let’s eat less of it, less often, and of better quality.

I really believe that you don’t have to be a bastard to be successful in business. Good business practice is almost as important to me as good farming. People management is not a skill that comes naturally to many farmers (and possibly not many entrepreneurs), me included, but I am very proud of having created a business that staff believe in and increasingly say is a very special place to work.

In summary, I want Riverford to be all about good food, good farming and good business; and about family farms, not factory farms. We hope to encourage people to ask questions about where their food comes from (without being preachy), and to treat food not as something anonymous, but as something to respect, enjoy with friends and family but in the clear and transparent knowledge of the journey it has made to the plate.

As far as we are concerned, the best things in life are shared, and food, good food, is the greatest example of this, and we want it to be available to everyone. It is very rewarding to have had this accolade from the Observer.

Guy Watson

Riverford Sourcing Policy

  • All produce/goods must be organically certified, where possible with the Soil Association, which we see as the gold standard in the UK.
  • We source as locally as is sensible, observing the principle of ‘right plant, right place’, so not growing veg where it does not belong. Each of the four regional Riverford farms grows locally as much of what they sell themselves as possible, using veg grown on our farm in France to fill the ‘hungry gap’.
  • We do not use produce from heated glasshouses, as the carbon footprint of such veg is greater by a factor of between 3 and 10, compared with growing, for example tomatoes and peppers, in the closest place (Spain) with the right climate and transporting them. More details on this at www.riverfordenvironment.co.uk.
  • Each farm has a cooperative or grower group of local farmers who we work with in the long term. Prices and volumes are set in advance, and we stick with our growers, providing a level of income security that is far from how many of the supermarkets operate. We work in exactly the same way with our small group of Spanish growers.
  • We never, ever air-freight anything, due to the enormous carbon footprint of this method of transportation. Anything we import comes by container ship or truck only.
  • We buy direct from the growers. This makes the produce more affordable by cutting out layers of middle men, helps family farms remain profitable, and helps make our farm to plate chain as transparent for our customers as possible.

Guy’s newsletter: competition, collaboration & car manufacture

Last week we were visited by some of our growers from Andalucia. For years they’ve produced veg for us that we can’t grow at home without heating with fossil fuels. As I approached Pepe, who this year has grown the spinach and asparagus which precedes the UK crop, I extended my hand with typical English reserve, only to be pulled into an extended Andalusian embrace. After six years, what started as a trading relationship has developed into a lasting friendship; one that’s benefited us and our box customers and will, I expect, see one or both of us into retirement.

The contrast couldn’t be greater with our (now long past) annual trips to supermarket HQ: having scrubbed up for the nightmare session of abuse from a buyer, the visit would start with the ritualistic humiliation of a two-hour wait (calculated to soften you up) before finally we would be summoned to meet the latest testosterone-charged buyer. Thankfully, that was fifteen years ago, but I gather things at some supermarkets haven’t changed much.

Does business have to be done like this? After thirty years of trying to find an efficient and courteous alternative I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that competition is pretty good at driving innovation and improvement. Brutal as it sounds, if you don’t have the incentive to find a way of both doing what you have to do today, and doing it a little bit better tomorrow, it’s only a matter of time before someone else does and your number is up.

This is not to accept that short term, cut-throat deal making is the best way. A school friend has spent his working life making parts for the automotive industry. I’m always amazed to hear how the larger car manufacturers, having selected a partner, invest heavily in making the relationship work, in the long run and for both parties. Car manufacture must be one of the most competitive and sophisticated industries in the world; it is heartening that there, like Pepe and me, they have reached the conclusion that building and maintaining relationships is critical to long term success.

Guy Watson

Guy’s newsletter: bean counting & leek pulling

Like life, walking a crop is a subjective experience where you can always find something to worry about; something that could have been done better. Whether I focus on the pigeon-pecked, aphid ridden stunted plants or the vigorous healthy ones, how the veg appears can be as much to do with my mood as their relative numbers in the field; but I’ve learned that it’s always a good idea to take a second look before getting too excited or depressed. Having said that, seeing the new crops being harvested for your boxes this week, it looks like we have made a good start to the new season. I might even risk a smile.

But will those smiles be turned to beans in the bank? Our Finance Director Steve, who has been so good at giving me the answer to this for the last seven years, is leaving us this summer to progress his bean counting with a career among cheesemakers. He is proving hard to replace, in part because I am having trouble resigning myself to the outrageous salaries earned by those at the top of his profession. While a leek puller’s remuneration has risen by a measly 10% or so since the recession, market rates for executive pay appears to have risen by 50% (especially for anyone in IT or accounts), making it hard to accommodate our self-imposed discipline on how much those at the top earn relative to those at the bottom. My hope is that this message might reach someone with the qualifications and experience we need, and who is prepared to trade a bit of salary and a suit for mud on their shoes, a fine view, and the pleasures of a relaxed and beautiful place of work in a determined and dynamic team on a mission to change the way business is done. Lunch is pretty good too.

Talking of lunch; we are also looking for a head chef for our pub in Islington. Relative to the norms of this profession the pay is more generous but in contrast to its other norms we would love to find someone who can communicate without shouting, even when slammed (busy, in kitchen speak). They must also, of course, love cooking from scratch using seasonal vegetables.

Visit www.riverford.co.uk/jobs to find out more about both of these posts.

Guy Watson