animal, vegetable, mineral

We are best known for our veg but, since my father took on the tenancy in 1951, Riverford has been predominately a livestock farm. That is largely dairy cows now, though my parents kept sheep and poultry and my father indulged a lifelong obsession with pigs, which lost him money for 40 years. My brother Ben, the butcher in the family, with a particular interest in charcuterie, started chopping, smoking and curing those pigs 30 years ago and eventually opened three shops, before starting our meatbox scheme in 2005. Fellow siblings Oliver and Louise run the dairy and, with two partners, pasteurise and pack the milk and make the cream, yoghurt and butter that we sell.

Given this history and now the involvement of 20 other local livestock farmers who supply us, it was particularly gratifying to win the RSPCA Good Business Award for Best Independent Food Retailer last week, as an acknowledgement that we are as thoughtful about meat as we are about veg. My enthusiasm will always be vegetables and I’m convinced that most of us eat more meat, eggs and dairy than is good for us and the planet. But that is all the more reason to make the most of what we do eat and to enjoy it with a clear conscience, by ensuring that it has been raised and slaughtered with the greatest respect for the animal. If we don’t produce it ourselves we know all the farmers who supply us; I went to school with quite a few of them and many also supply organic veg for the boxes.

So what makes us different? We only sell organic meat, dairy and eggs that have been produced to the highest welfare standards. Those standards include lower stocking densities, a free range, pasture-based existence and a natural diet. We only use small scale producers as this ensures a level of care per animal that we believe isn’t achievable in intensive farming systems. The RSPCA judges also picked up on how we communicate our animal welfare story, with a particular nod to our ‘Bucking Bovines’ video of the Riverford dairy herd running out to pasture. To see it and read more about our commitment to animal welfare go to www.riverford.co.uk/animalwelfare.

Guy Watson