Guy’s news: Ode to a fallen oak

January’s first gale finally toppled one of our oldest field oaks. It has stood alone for all my 57 years, increasingly skeletal, surrounded by successive crops of grass, rhubarb, chard, cabbages and grass again. Unlike the more aggressively colonising ash tree, which stunts the growth of any crop within 20 metres, oaks allow grass and vegetables to grow right up to their branches; they seem happy to share, knowing that they will outlive their competitors. In my early years, resentful of the cropping area lost to this old oak, we probably took advantage of its good nature and ploughed too close. It pains me now to think my greed may have accelerated the tree’s end by damaging its roots.

It is said to have taken an incredible 1000 oaks to build Nelson’s HMS Victory, and 2000 plus for the larger ships of the line, leading to a severe national timber shortage by the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Riverford is rich in mature 200- to 300-year-old oak trees, probably planted in response to this shortage. Most stand alone in hedges or fields, where the absence of nearby trees gives them a stately grandeur. Their forms, though instantly recognisable for the sturdiness of their trunks and lacelike finery of their branches, are incredibly varied, shaped (like all of us) by a combination of genetics and growing conditions. Each tree is an ecosystem, home to a myriad of fungal and insect parasites, to little deleterious effect; time and evolution have resulted in tolerant, if not quite symbiotic, co-existence. They have provided grace, shade, shelter and food for centuries… and this one, now fallen, will heat my home for a year or more. My veneration of the ancient trees grows with every year I age myself. In my animist moments, I wonder how the survivors will judge our brief custodial tenure of the landscape they grace.

We have finally phased out the paper receipts in all areas (saving 2.6m bits of paper a year). Most of you have responded that this was long overdue. You will get an e-receipt the morning of your delivery – as long as you have an email registered with us. If we don’t have an email for you, or if you have any other questions, please call your local veg team or the team at the farm.

Guy Singh-Watson

22 responses to “Guy’s news: Ode to a fallen oak

  1. Don’t beat yourself up Guy, the old oak may just have got old? Paperless bills are good. Can we put our heads together to lessen th packaging? Re. Bags for bananas etc whose fruit has to be peeled. Unless we could return brown bags for reuse. People who buy organic are in the main a breed of humankind who care about the wider picture. Regards Sandra West

  2. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts (and history) on the fallen oak.
    I would just like to mention that I do not throw away brown bags until they are well and truly worn. I save them to store my red cabbage etc in the fridge and do not like my food in plastic very much so try to hang on to the paper if at all possible.

  3. I also cherish the brown paper bags and use them for storing veg in the fridge. Just have to write on the outside what they hold!

  4. Great to see the new e-receipt. We are all for reducing waste and in our household and we find the brown bags compost down really well. We would love to see some alternatives to the plastic salad and kale bags and the plastic milk cartons such as the more eco-friendly milk bags/jugs, which we understand are popular in Canada and are being trialed here. Keep up the good work!

  5. Will you be sowing a new oak tree in memory of the old one?
    We too re use the bags and containers (boxes) until they need recycling.

  6. I’m sure you know, Guy, that if you leave the oak where it fell, or maybe haul it to the side of the field and leave it there, life will continue in the wood and it will still provide a home for many creatures – decay is an important part of nature too.

    I too re-use the brown bags, sometimes more than once, and then then go into the recycling bin.
    I do wonder why the carrots are often loose in the box but the potatoes are in a bag though. I remember shopping years ago, veg were weighed then just tipped into my bag!

  7. I would happily receive all my fruit and veg loose in a box, like Bobbi described in the ‘good ole days’.

  8. PS- thanks SO much for the Sunflowers 🙂

  9. Thank you all for the tips on brown paper bags. Hadn’t thought of reusing them for other veg. May we send back the egg boxes? Love the sunflower bird feeder too 😎

  10. In a world of far too much of nature being lost to buildings, concrete, roads, it is always sad when something else is lost so I am sorry to hear about your tree. But if you leave it nature will still provide a home for insects etc I too remember the days when we didn’t have or need all this packaging and have never used carrier bags! I also think you should deliver the fruit and veg loose and I re-cycle everything possible. Thanks for the Sunflowers, my birds love them and couldn’t wait for them after your original batch!!

  11. Hi Guy
    Shame about the tree, I had to cut down a lovely old cherry-plum which graced my front hedge -in the recent storms another branch dropped revealing that it was full of fungus. It was a hard decision but one I had to take for safety of us and the public walking past…I’m still missing it and will again when the flowering and fruiting seasons arrive. With a mature oak I imagine it as a whole village or town of ecology compared with the single house of a young tree and its loss is very sad but perhaps a small lesson if you did have some hand in the demise. I applaud you being honest about this.
    I agree about the plastic containers – the presence of these carrying tomatoes/mushrooms etc has deterred me from ordering them. I’ve been avoiding plastic packaging for many years, witnessing for myself the havoc/devastation it causes to our oceans and more.
    Appreciate your hard work and thoughtfulness
    Regards Julie Cherry

  12. Ps: the remains of my tree are becoming garden seats, planters and a log pile for the wildlife

  13. Bobbi – spuds in brown bag to help exclude light so that they don’t go green

  14. Love the brown paper bags as we re-use them and then finally line our food waste bin with – which goes into council composting.
    Thank you so much for the bird feeder too. The birds are very happy!

  15. Shame about the old oak tree! Our brown paper bags go back with the veg box each week, along with the egg cartons and the tomato / mushroom trays. And yes, we also keep our potatoes in their brown bags tucked way in the garage where no light can get at them! Would also be happy to have the veg loose in the box . . .

  16. Julie The tomatoes and mushrooms don’t come in plastic containers, they use cardboard.

  17. I also return paper bags and mushroom boxes with my veg box, but do they get reused? My bags and containers always seem to be brand new, but I would rather receive items in less than perfect containers which are being reused.

  18. Are there plans to move Riverford milk from plastic containers to returnable glass bottles?

  19. Thank you for the Sunflower head, a lovely idea.
    I have many birds and they are delighted. They told me so, in a song, this morning!
    I return the egg boxes and cardboard boxes that fold up, as well as the dairy silver bags with ice packs (very thoughtfully provided) And the green plastic brolly.
    The thick brown bags I reuse many times to store veg, mostly potatoes and eventually they get composted here at home.
    The cardboard mushroom trays are reused as holders for many things, including a few onions and garlic kept by the cooker, as well as tomatoes. The porosity of the cardboard seems to stop them going off for a bit longer.
    They also become compost, eventually. I shred them into tiny pieces and mix them into my compost heap. I grow a few organic veg here, and when I wash any grit of my Riverford veggies, I even chuck that water into my soil, as it is no doubt in better condition than mine and contains many happy micro organisms.
    Thank you for a superb service.

  20. Yes we reuse all the strong brown paper vege bags as are excellent for storing root vege like beetroot and sweet tatties and butternuts. We compost the mushroom and tomato punnets and egg boxes. Also the grape punnets. Just like to add that the beetroot, corn on cob and Romanescu are superb! As are the grapes which I adore. Trying to think of an alternative to plastic salad bags but can’t as yet!? Also sheep’s wool is an excellent insulator! It keeps stuff cold and could be used for packing loose vege short-term? Maybe the 3 D printer will hold the key to a greener alternative to plastic vacuum packaging of meat!?

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