Guy’s news: Size; does it matter?

Last week London’s Bargehouse Gallery hosted We Feed The World, an international photography exhibition focusing on the smallholder farmers who still produce 70% of the world’s food. I braced myself for patronising peasant-porn, but my prejudices were quickly allayed by the intimacy and truth of the images. They gave a window into a world in which we all have ancestral roots; one that is fast being replaced by large-scale brutality and destruction. It moved me, as art should, to ask questions: of our world, and of Riverford’s part in it.

Technology and globalism have transformed many industries, often at huge human cost. It would be hard to say to an ex-coal or steel worker that small farmers should be the exception. But how we farm has environmental, social, landscape and health impacts that provide strong arguments against sacrificing it on the altar of global, neo-liberal economics. Big doesn’t have to be bad, but in farming, it usually is: for wildlife, for food quality, for animal welfare, and for the communities which lose the infrastructure of integrated small family businesses. Big cannot cope with the intricacies of mixed farms and varied landscapes, so it uses all its power to make things the same: in neighbouring fields, then on neighbouring farms; in Cornwall and Cambridgeshire, then in Cambridgeshire, Kansas. The same varieties sold by the same three global seed companies. The same commodities sold to the same four global grain traders, and retailed through the same few supermarkets under the same global brands.

The reality of small-scale farming in the UK is hard: we expect to spend only 10% of our income on food, with just 0.6% going to farmers. A dogmatic battle with scale would sink Riverford, but, with your help, we can apply the brakes: by our preference for small growers, by supporting the co-op I founded twenty years ago, and by being a fair and reliable customer to all. Indeed, this is perhaps the side of Riverford that is most exceptional and gives me the most pride. With this in mind, once a month over the winter we will profile one of our growers in place of this newsletter – hopefully without patronising anybody.

Price changes – As explained last week, there will be a small price rise on our boxes and some individual items from 29th October. You can find out more at riverford.co.uk/box-price-rise.

Guy Singh-Watson

6 responses to “Guy’s news: Size; does it matter?

  1. Looking forward to reading about each of the growers over the coming months, their successes and failures. We, as consumers, have become so distanced from the vegetables and animals that we eat in the race to the bottom in terms of price. Low cost has consequences that we are either are unaware of, or seem to ignore.

    Having been a customer of Riverford for a number of years my eyes have been opened by the information put out by Guy and other members of the team. Keep up the good work and educating us along the way

  2. Hello Guy,
    I just read one of your blogs about the carrots in France being taken over by Ravenelle – a horrible wild weed. I looked it up and found that it is edible. it is a member of the cabbage family and can be eaten like kale!
    http://bellessauvagesetplus.blogspot.com/2018/04/la-ravenelle-une-plante-sauvage-et.html
    If you want a translation just let me know!

  3. Tessa Strickland

    ‘Small is beautiful’ is nowhere better exemplified than through the initiative and perseverance of Riverford Organics; thank you all and keep up the fantastic work!

  4. The computer is still basically an adding machine. It is easier for large organisations to simplify their operations, instead of using the technology to cover all options. I was recently refused a sandwich because it had not been priced separately on the till. A new parking metre did not have the facility to allow concessionary rates, so pay up or face a fine. Schumacher had it right.
    “Small is beautiful”. Riverford has it right and thank heavens has not fallen prey to using the computer to make things simpler and easier.
    I have become a luddite.

  5. Dear Mr Singh-Watson,

    Please stop worrying about ‘patronising’ people. Shout your message loud and free, and without apology. (Oh gosh that rhymes! As my Dad used to say – “I’m a poet and I don’t know it!”)

  6. Ben Eagle’s blog post on the UK’s loss of Small Farms here is well worth reading, go take a look. https://thinkingcountry.com/2017/08/25/one-fifth-of-english-farms-have-disappeared-in-past-10-years/

    Best Wishes

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

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