Riverford Wicked Leeks

better business

As a grower in the 90s, when supermarkets first started selling organic produce, I got used to regular abuse from ambitious supermarket buyers with no knowledge of or interest in vegetables, let alone farming. Quite apart from the unpleasantness, the relentless pursuit of short-term profit and resulting lack of trust made it impossible to develop a business that could deliver genuine value in the long run. The experience left me with the conviction that there had to be a better and more enjoyable way of doing business. The box scheme gave us and our fellow growers and suppliers the opportunity to find it; for that I am very grateful to you all.

When we met earlier this month for our annual gathering of growers, there was much discussion about flavour and avoiding unnecessary waste, packaging, excessive transport and risk. One key theme is to ensure that our standards, specifications and prices are reasonable and reflect the messages we get from you; flavour is more important than cosmetic perfection. The lamentable decline in flavour of fruit and veg is a direct result of the search for consistency, 52 week continuity, cosmetic perfection, cheapness and shelf life demanded by supermarkets. Better flavour often means taking risks; but growers will only take a risk if they trust us not to castigate them if things go wrong.

Our best suppliers tend to be the ones we know best. In recent years we have worked with a small group of growers in Spain, Italy and a few further afield. Paco Sanchez on the Spanish coast grows wonderful peppers, cucumbers, avocados and beans. His eternal optimism and boundless enthusiasm means that he is always trying new varieties and crops. We love him and he loves the box scheme. Up the coast near Murcia, Gines grows most of the oranges in the boxes through winter. He thinks he can do even better using different varieties, including more of the blood oranges and by focusing on the very best time for picking each variety. Inland, near Granada, the hugely energetic, bike riding, paragliding Pepe grows the asparagus that will be in the boxes until ours starts. There are so many great stories to tell but yet again I have run out of room.

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon