Guy’s news: The return of green

The drought is over. I wish I had followed my wife Geetie’s advice and spent more time on the beach instead of wandering around getting miserably stressed
about my crops. Then again, you don’t get to be good at growing vegetables without sharing their pain. I’ve never met a self-satisfied organic veg farmer who was any good; we are mostly a contradictory mix of optimism and mild depression, focusing on the sick plants rather than the strong ones, without losing faith in the Eden our fields will one day become.

 
We had over two inches of rain last weekend, with leaden skies and occasional showers since. The warm ground is still gratefully sucking in anything that falls and is far from saturated, but with shortening days, heavier dews and the sun lower every day, we will not be worrying about water again this year. We have lost a good part of our carrots, swedes, chard, spinach, and early crops of lettuce, but what is left looks good. The drought and heatwave seem like distant memories; pastures have already regained their green, and once-parched vegetables are bursting out of themselves in a hurry to make up for lost time.

 
Planting of winter crops is largely finished for the year and, with so many customers on holiday, there’s less for us to pick and pack. We are enjoying a lull which will last to mid-September. We are even largely on top of the weeds; most of them struggled as much as our crops, making them easy to hoe out.
The cows will be short of good quality grass for another week or two while growth catches up with their hungry mouths. Like most livestock farmers, my siblings at Riverford Dairy have been feeding the herd their winter silage ration for many weeks. In the longer run, this risks shortage in the winter; in the short run, silage is nothing like grass in its fresh form. The cows eat less, and what they do eat is less nutritious. Milk yields are down as a result; so much so that, for the first time, they anticipate not being able to meet orders next week. Some of you who are used to Riverford milk may receive Acorn Dairy milk instead; based in Yorkshire, Acorn supply our customers in the North and East with organic milk year round. With many cows due to calve and re-join the Riverford herd this month, Acorn should not need to lend a hand for long.

Guy Singh-Watson

Our new raw, organic honey

Organic honey is very hard to come by. A bee’s foraging distance is up to 12km, and for honey to be certified as organic, the honey producer must be able to prove that its bees have only foraged in organic land. These distances are beyond most producers’ capabilities, especially on our small island, where organic land is typically surrounded by non-organic farmland sprayed with artificial chemicals.

But after years of searching, we have found a fantastic organic honey producer: Bona Mel, a family run Spanish business who have been beekeeping for three generations, and organic since 1990. They are based in the Spanish mountains, where their hives are scattered across the natural parks of Sierra Mariola and La Safor, Alicante, which are home to an astonishingly rich natural variety of plants. To the bees, that’s a botanical smorgasbord, where blossom is available all year round.

Their raw wildflower honey is red tinged, with a fragrant, sweetly floral taste – and because they live in a completely uncultivated area, we can be certain that it’s 100% organic. The honey is raw, and prepared by bees with the nectar from various Mediterranean wild flowers.

Because Bona Mel produce, prepare and jar their honey themselves, it is traceable right back to the hive.

You can add Bona Mel honey to your order now: https://www.riverford.co.uk/shop/new/honey-250g

 

5 Riverford recipes for August

As the heat of the summer lingers, we’re making the most of our seasonal veg and enjoying some Mediterranean inspired meals. Our basil crop is starting to slowly wind down now after growing so well this year. We are still using it in lots of dishes, such as bright, basil scented Tuscan panzanella – a beautiful salad in which the taste of ripe tomatoes really shines through.

The courgettes on the farm have rallied through the drought and grown away nicely, producing some fantastic plants that are yielding good quality courgettes – they seem to really like the sunshine. Pea shoot, courgette & whipped feta toasts are an interesting way to combine them with other stronger notes such as caramelised lemon.

Farinata (also known as socca) is wonderful discovery and a great gluten free option. A dense chickpea pancake, often baked in shallow trays in wood-fired ovens, it is perfect to drag through and mop up sauces. We have paired it with a rich but simple Ragú of green beans with tomatoes and olives.

Tomato & White Bean Panzanella

Traditional Italian panzanella is a way of turning stale bread into a salad that manages to be fresh and filling. Tomatoes, vinegar and oil soak into the bread and revive it, but if you don’t have stale bread, you can simply dry it in the oven for a while. We’ve added everything that’s good towards the end of summer – any extra ingredients are open for debate!

See the full tomato & white bean panzanella recipe here.

Pea Shoot, Courgette & Whipped Feta Toasts

You can treat this recipe as a posh open sandwich or a starter. The pea shoots are the first delicate stalks of a pea plant. More than just a garnish, they are sweet and succulent with a definite pea flavour. Charring the lemon really intensifies the flavour and gives it depth and warmth that cuts through the saltiness of the cheese as well.

See the full pea shoot, courgette & whipped feta toasts recipe here.

Ragú of Green Beans with Farinata

If steaming your green beans is the ‘go-to’, here’s a different destination for them. Green beans don’t always have to be bright and squeaky, they are more than happy to be given a little extra time and heat. What you lose in colour and bite, you make up for with a melt-in the-mouth tenderness. Served with Farinata (also known as socca) a dense and protein rich chickpea pancake, it makes a great vegetarian main or simply omit the Parmesan for a vegan option.

See the full ragu of green beans with farinata recipe here.

Spinach, Olive & Feta Tart

This is a really adaptable recipe and a great crowd-pleaser. Using the pastry case as your base, you can vary the fillings as much as you like. Use a good ready-made shortcrust to save time if you prefer.

See the full spinach, olive & feta tart recipe here.

Spinach Linguine with Roasted Tomatoes & Breadcrumbs

In Italy, ‘pangrattato’ or ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ (breadcrumbs with garlic and chilli) is traditionally sprinkled over pasta to give flavour and texture. This is another recipe that makes use of any leftover bread: here it is dried and blitzed into crunchy crumbs. Any extra can be kept in a bag or tub in the freezer where you can use directly, sprinkled onto gratins and other dishes for a little crunch.

See the full spinach linguine with roasted tomatoes & breadcrumbs recipe here.

Guy’s news: Packaging: Doing our best in the world as we find it

As promised in February, we have spent the last 6 months reconsidering our packaging, with particular emphasis on plastics. Our conclusions and actions are as follows (and in more depth at riverford.co.uk/future-packaging):

1. We will continue to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Our research suggests that our veg boxes already use less than a quarter of the packaging of a major supermarket. We think we can reduce this further to nearer a tenth in the winter, when produce is typically less perishable.

2. By 2020, 95%+ of the single-use plastic we do use will be home compostable (fully degradable in 12 weeks under the temperatures typical of home composting). After polling our customers, it turns out that a staggering 83% of you home compost. We will ask those who can home compost to do so, and those who can’t to return all packaging for us to compost at the farm and use to grow our next crops.

Although not a perfect solution, it is a huge improvement; we are doing our best in the world as we find it. With that in mind, I have two comments:

1. Anthropogenic climate change is unquestionably the biggest environmental threat our planet faces. We must not allow the plastic debate to detract from this. Reducing plastic use does nothing to address climate change; in some instances, it can make it worse. We need pragmatic policies that balance all environmental impacts.

2. It is impossible for citizens or companies to instigate good packaging practices while every local authority has a different approach to kerbside collection. Of all the ‘recyclable’ plastic used in the UK, only a third is actually recycled. We desperately need an intelligent, long-term, national policy on what materials will be recycled, composted and incinerated or landfilled. In the current vacuum, effort is being wasted on ill-informed company policies and headline-grabbing claims that will deliver little of value. To abandon policy to individual choices and market forces is an abdication of responsibility and a failure of government… Time for action, Michael Gove.

Guy Singh-Watson

Guy’s news: A temporary reprieve

Three months of dry easterlies ended last weekend with a westerly gale sweeping in off the Atlantic, accompanied by persistent, anxiety-quenching rain. Even our drenched pickers were relieved. Should we thank our cosmically attuned farm worker Raph and a few other rain dancers? Did a butterfly flap its wings somewhere? Whatever the cause, it feels like balance and benevolence have temporarily been restored; even the cooing of our pigeons sounds pleased.

The rain was patchy and localised, but we got lucky, with 44mm showing in the rain gauge. The water disappeared without trace, sucked down into the thirsty ground with no run-off. Within two days the surface looked almost as parched as before – but, critically, digging shows that the moisture from the surface soaked in to meet the moisture at depth. The effect on our plants’ turgidity, leaf colour and growth was almost instant. Most fields could suck up another 3-4 inches of rain before any soaked away to the subsoil or ran off to water courses.

The rain has saved many crops, giving them time to develop the root systems that will find moisture at depth. We have now finished planting the leeks, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli that will provide most of the greens in your boxes through autumn and winter. The more demanding summer crops will be okay for a fortnight, but once they have a full canopy of leaves, potatoes will draw an inch or more of water from the soil each week… We are not yet out of trouble. For now, it is a pleasure to walk the fields and see crops growing without stress, in ideal conditions. The gale accompanying the rain damaged delicate crops like courgettes and pumpkins, and lodged (bent over) some sweetcorn, but this was a small price to pay for the water.

It is too soon to count the cost of the drought. The bolted lettuces, yellowing spinach, stunted cabbage, failed peas and so on have put us £200,000 behind budget. More rain within a fortnight and a favourable autumn could see us catch up on the veg, but many dairy farmers have already had to feed a good part of their winter forage rations to their cows. With luck we will have a long back end (autumn stretching into early winter), allowing cows to stay out grazing fresh grass for longer, and forage to be preserved.

Guy Singh-Watson

 

5 vegetarian BBQ recipes

To plan a BBQ during a typical British summer you need to have a dash of optimism and good waterproofs. However, this year has been an exception. Although the hot weather is a challenge in the fields, the evenings are long, warm and ideal for gathering with friends and family to share an alfresco feast.

Sweetcorn is a sign of late summer; an iconic seasonal star. It’s also great vegan option if you are looking for something a bit different to put on the grill. We deliver it with the leaves intact to keep it fresh – natural packaging at its best.

With an abundance of summer veg, it’s great to have some new takes on old favourites: everyone loves potato salad, so here is a fresh version of a classic BBQ side, and a vegetarian salad niçoise featuring sweet, rich roasted cherry tomatoes makes a wonderful accompaniment. We also look forward to the first Padron peppers (pimientos de padrón). They originally hail from Galicia but we’ve discovered they also like growing on our farm in France. Some are hot and some are not – it’s impossible to tell which is which. Always great fun to eat and easy to make, serve them alongside your BBQ feast or as a starter.

BBQ Sweetcorn with Chipotle & Charred Limes

Smoky corn, spicy mayonnaise and zesty-sweet caramelised limes make a delectable trio that’s even better washed down with a cool beer. If it rains on your parade and you need to take your BBQ inside, this recipe also works well roasted in an oven.

See full barbecued sweetcorn with chipotle and charred limes recipe.

Padron Peppers

Play Russian roulette with Padron peppers grown by Guy’s team on our farm in France. These small green peppers are all the rage in tapas bars – fry or grill until blistering and serve with sea salt. Most are mild, some have moderate heat – and watch out for the occasional lurker with a real kick.

See our simple how to cook Padron peppers recipe

Courgette & Halloumi Kebabs with Green Tahini Dressing

A great vegetarian option for a BBQ or a simple summery lunch. Try with zephyr courgettes, grown on our co-op farmer Antony Coker’s farm, to add a dash of yellow to the table. It’s worth making extra of the nutty, creamy tahini dressing; it goes well with most roasted veg.

See full courgette & halloumi kebabs with green tahini dressing recipe.

Broad Bean, Saffron & New Potato Salad

This warm salad combines two of the best veg Britain has to offer at this time of year. The bright red saffron threads add a wonderful colour and subtle flavour but use it sparingly, or the flavour can be cloying. Try using a small handful of chervil for a slightly different flavour to parsley, or alternatively some chopped chives.

See full broad bean, saffron & new potato salad recipe.

Roasted Tomato Niçoise Salad

This is a substantial, flavour-packed French summer classic, with the roasted cherry tomatoes add extra intensity. At this time of year our tomatoes come from our polytunnels; you can’t beat them on taste. Each season we trial and test new varieties to be sure we are always growing the most flavoursome ones.

See the full roasted tomato niçoise salad recipe.

Guy’s news: Is this how it starts?

Ever hotter, ever drier, with empty reservoirs and no sign of respite. ‘Stay calm,’ says John, our serene farm manager – but I feel myself becoming increasingly unhinged in the heat. It feels personal. Tantalising but ever-receding suggestions of thunder are torture as we watch stressed lettuces run to seed for lack of water and normally robust cabbages retreat into themselves, attempting to hang on to what they have. Those who have seen Gérard Depardieu as the tax inspector turned farmer in Jean de Florette will have the picture: he loses his mind while his farm collapses around him for lack of water. Gérard’s drought turns out to be caused by nothing more than a covered spring, maliciously blocked by his covetous neighbours. I am not sure our problem is so simple.

The sun, normally welcome, becomes a cruel and unforgiving enemy when water is short. Is the driest and hottest summer since 1976 mere weather, or anthropogenic climate change? Our primitive ancestors might question whether they had buried enough corn dollies or worshipped the right deity. If all else failed, they might sacrifice a goat. Of course, we know better; we are so clever and enlightened that we burnt millions of years’ worth of fossil fuels in one generation, dashing for growth. Is this an early manifestation of the predicted resulting climate change? Perhaps it is too soon to say with authority – but by the time we have that authority, it will be too late; the melting regions of permafrost will be emitting methane in a positive feedback loop with consequences the most accomplished climate scientists can only guess at.

So, is this how it starts? Is this how it will be when our self-regulating natural planet, that has looked after us and tolerated (even compensated for) our abuses, can no longer take the punches? As the crops wilt and the ground cracks, I must remind myself that no one here will die; this is a matter of convenience and bank balances. But it is also a window into the world where food security and seasonal rains are already matters of life and death for subsistence farmers. There will be no spring to unearth; corn dollies will not help. For those farmers and for ourselves, we must learn to share more and live with less. It is our appetite for cheap and convenient energy, not goats, that we must sacrifice.

Guy Singh-Watson

Feeding food surplus to pigs safely: a win for farmers and the environment?

Pigs have the potential to turn a massive food waste problem into a tasty solution. However, feeding food waste to pigs is currently banned in the UK, after illegal practices by a farmer in the ‘90s lead to the disastrous effects of Foot and Mouth Disease.

Feedback’s The Pig Idea are campaigning to reintroduce food waste feed to pigs in the UK, to potentially make a use for 2.5 million tonnes of wasted food a year.

There are still some questions about how it would work, especially in organic farming, but it’s clear that The Pig Idea has the potential to make a huge difference to waste, pig welfare, and the environment. Karen Luyckx from The Pig Idea explains more in this guest blog. We’re interested to hear what you, our customers think; you can give your feedback in the short survey linked below.

Photo Credit – Chris King Photography / The Pig Idea

For thousands of years, humans have fed pigs on food waste. Pigs were domesticated to be the original recycling banks – or “piggy banks” – enthusiastically eating food that was inedible to humans and converting it into edible food in the form of pork. But omnivorous livestock like poultry and pigs are now primarily fed on crops like soy, rapeseed, wheat and barley using up valuable land and resources.

I’ve lived and worked for six years in Bolivia and seen with my own eyes the devastation done by large-scale soya farming in the Amazon. It’s heart-breaking to see such unparalleled biodiversity turned into a green desert of soy monoculture as far as the eye can see.

Photo credit – Adriano Gambarini / WWF Brazil.

The UK imports 2.5 million tonnes of soy a year mostly for use in livestock. Even though the industry is busily looking for more eco-friendly replacements, the total volume of soy imports keeps rising year on year, with the great majority still coming from South America and organic soy from as far as China.

Soy is needed in pig and chicken diets because of it offers high quality plant proteins necessary for omnivorous animals fed on plant-based feed only. Meat-containing leftovers were banned for all livestock, regardless of these being herbivores or omnivores, after a farmer illegally fed untreated food waste to pigs and caused the disastrous Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001.

But we now have the opportunity and the evidence to revisit safe, economically and environmentally attractive ways to reintroduce the use of food surplus as feed. In the same way that we should cook chicken properly to make sure it is safe and avoid raw chicken juice getting onto our plates, we will need to cook the surplus food to kill off disease and then make sure we store and transport it safely. Japan already does this in modern treatment plants. Please see the REFRESH expert report for more information on the safety measures.

Surplus food treatment plant in Japan

Feeding more food waste to pigs and chickens could yield substantial benefits. If the whole of Europe were to feed heat-treated surplus food to pigs at the same rate as is currently done in Japan, we could save global agricultural land equal to the size of Wales, including hundreds of thousands of acres of South America’s biodiverse forests and savannahs.

And the United Nations estimates that if farmers all around the world fed their livestock on the food we currently waste and on agricultural by-products, enough grain would be liberated to feed an extra three billion people, more than the additional number expected to be sharing our planet by 2050.

For the UK, Feedback has calculated that about 2.5 million tonnes of food that currently goes to waste could be used to feed pigs and chickens, that’s about 20% of the UK’s total food waste.

Current feed costs – representing over 60% of total production cost of pork – are a nightmare for farmers. At the same time, in Japan, surplus food to feed treatment plants produce feed at half the cost of conventional feed. Reducing feed costs may support farmers’ livelihoods and help increase investment in animal welfare.

This pig has just enjoyed an exciting whey and veggie leftover porridge (currently allowed). Photo by Feedback.

Looking at the science, we also know that deficiencies in certain types of protein may exacerbate tail and ear biting in pigs. While tail biting is caused by a combination of factors, replacing conventional feed with heat-treated leftovers that contain meat may contribute to a reduction in tail biting, allowing pigs to return to the type of diet they have evolved to eat as omnivores.

This is why Feedback calls on the UK to lift the current ban on using catering waste and food surplus, from retail and manufacturing, as feed for omnivorous non-ruminant livestock, such as pigs and chickens. We propose that this ban is replaced with robust legislation regulating the treatment of this surplus food in off-farm licensed processing facilities so that it is safe.

Read our report to find out more about why feeding leftovers to pigs and chickens is safe and why it is a win-win for farmers and the environment. We also hope it is a win for people who love a tasty sausage or pork chop but worry about the impact conventional livestock production has on the environment, but we would love to hear what you think.

What you can do to help?
Fill out our 10 minute survey to share your views with us.

Guy’s news: Smiling in the face of calamity

The reservoirs are all but empty. We have kept back just enough to water our five acres of tunnels; the outdoor crops will have to fend for themselves. Without rain, the shallow-rooting, quick-growing and water-demanding crops like lettuce, spinach and rocket will start suffering within a week and be unmarketable in two. Prospects for broccoli and potatoes aren’t much better.

Beyond the reach of irrigation pipes, we are planting out leeks, cabbages, kales and cauliflowers; the crops that will keep your boxes full over the winter. In most cases the land was ploughed and a seed bed made while still moist in May; this effectively seals the moisture in and conserves it until planting. We plant as deeply and as firmly as possible, and most of the plants are getting their roots out and down into the moisture before the sun sucks the life out of them. Though we will probably invest in more winter fill reservoirs, the cheapest way to provide water is to prepare a ‘stale’ seed bed (with a loose, fine top layer that prevents capillary action from drawing water to the surface) early in the year; this also helps with weed control. However, leaving bare seed beds for extended periods while we wait to plant brings the risk of catastrophic soil loss from erosion in heavy rain. Damned if you plough early, damned if you plough late.

In contrast, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, sweetcorn and basil are lapping up the heat; in fact, we face a basil glut, so this is the time make pesto (£4.25 for 200g). Our cardoons, long since too tough to eat, are now coming into flower; the bees love them, but I reckon they can spare a few. You can order one for £1/stem, with 90p going to Send a Cow. They look and smell fantastic.

Despite the impending disaster, everyone seems remarkably calm, relaxed and even happy. Like our World Cup team, there is a feeling that we have done our best and what will be, will be. It could be the sunshine or the move to employee ownership; it could be that we have our best team ever and increasingly are leaving them to make their own decisions. Whatever the reason, we are making the most of our chances, which is all we can do in a year like this. In an act of defiant optimism, we are still sowing and planting salads; there seems to be some hope of a change in the weather towards the end of the month.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 Riverford recipes for broad beans

Broad beans are the only beans that are truly happy in our damp, cool climate; so much so that the first sowings can be made in late October to November, though a February sowing often produces a better crop and only a week or two later. The first flowers appear in April, releasing a gorgeous scent to draw in the few bees that are hardy enough to venture out.

Like many children, Guy dreaded the dry furriness of broad beans. In his middle years however, the smell of them makes his ‘heart skip a beat’, and at Riverford we look forward to their brief season.

When young and small, they are best raw in salads. Leave double-podding – a pleasing task but time-consuming – for later in the season when the beans are getting hard, pale and much larger. Double-podding reveals their verdant inner green and rids the sometimes bitter skins – eating them this way can be revolutionary and convert even the most stubborn of broad bean hater.

Crushed Broad Bean Bruschetta

crushed broad bean bruschetta recipe
A delectable vegetarian springtime starter. Two lovely additions: spread your toasted bread with a little fresh ricotta before piling on the beans, or top the crushed beans with crispily fried pancetta or bacon lardons.

See full crushed broad bean bruschetta recipe.

Gnocchi with Courgettes, Broad Beans & Peas

gnocchi & crème fraîche with courgettes, broad beans & peas recipe
The gnocchi and courgettes cook fast, leaving you plenty of time to pod your peas and beans. Podding has a meditative quality to it. If it’s speed rather than enlightenment you’re after, split the pile in half and race someone. You can use the broad beans with their skins on, but if you have time it’s worth slipping them from their skins

See full gnocchi & crème fraîche with courgettes, broad beans & peas recipe.

Moroccan Carrot & Buckwheat Crêpes with Broad Bean Salad

moroccan carrot & buckwheat crêpes with warm broad bean & herb salad recipe
Moroccan spices go well with carrots, and other roots for that matter. We’re using toasted buckwheat, aka kasha, as the filling for the crêpes alongside the veg and spices. It’s a gluten-free seed with a nutty flavour, a great source of protein, fibre and other nutrients. Following the theme, we’re also using buckwheat flour, which is used in traditional French-style crêpes. It gives the crêpes a slightly darker colour.

See full moroccan carrot & buckwheat crêpes with warm broad bean & herb salad recipe.

Broad Bean Dip

broad bean dip recipe
Eat as a dip with slices of pitta or salady bits, or use as a sandwich filler. A healthy green alternative to the usual chickpea hummus. This is a good way to use up older, larger beans, but make sure you double pod them before puréeing. It’s worth finishing with some good olive oil.

See full broad bean dip recipe.

Broad Bean Fritters

broad bean fritters recipe
These simple fritters make a good vegetarian main course but you could also serve smaller ones as starters or canapés for a summer party (they can be made in advance and gently warmed through in a low oven). Kids generally love them, particularly the dinky-sized ones.

See full broad bean fritters recipe.