Author Archives: Riverford

Guy’s news: An experiment in benign neglect

We have started cutting pak choi, basil, salad onions and salad leaves, with lettuce, spinach and chard still a week away. In most years we would now be emerging from the Hungry Gap, but with planting delayed by a wet spring, the pack house remains depressingly heavy on imports; some from our French farm, but more from our Spanish growers, and some from further afield.

25 years ago, the hardcore veg box pioneers stopped delivering from March to June – but that wasted the lovely end-of-season UK veg like purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, cauliflowers and rhubarb that were available. Frustration with having to top our boxes up with expensive, poor quality imports, combined with my overconfidence as a grower, drove me to buying a farm in France to grow the stuff myself. Climatic research and many visits suggested that we could steal four to six weeks’ harvesting by going 250 miles south, and staying close to the winter warmth of the Atlantic. That put us in the sunny Vendée region; about the same distance from Devon as the Fens. In the end, the project has worked out well – but not without some expensive, humbling failures in the early years.

Managing a business 250 miles away, with only a very limited grasp of a different language, law and culture, has led me to question what effective management is. In the early years I would dash around on the first day of a visit giving instructions: water this, plough that in, get those crop covers off. During my visit last week I looked, listened and contemplated my purpose. The less I visit, the better the team seems to do – perhaps because they have space to grow. I am astonished by their appetite for learning and innovation. I used to think that was my job, but now I find investments being evaluated, and new crops, varieties and growing techniques being tried; it’s me who is doing the learning. Relationships and roles are fluid, almost anarchic, but decision making is fast and efficient. There is one small office, which is usually empty; most decisions are made in the field, over a coffee or a beer at the end of the day.

Could it be that the most important part of management is knowing when to get out of the way – and its most common failing the underestimation of people’s capability to find fulfilment by managing themselves?

Guy Singh-Watson

5 asparagus recipes to enjoy this spring

Tender, sweet and delicate – the flavour of English asparagus just can’t be beaten. For an organic farmer though, asparagus is the ultimate challenge; weeds being the problem. Asparagus’ tall wispy foliage never casts enough shade to supress weeds, while its unruly growth habit makes row cultivation difficult. For the cook however, it is a delight and an iconic marker of the start of another season.

Our top tip for prepping asparagus is to hold the stalk at either end and bend it gently. It will break naturally at the point where the stalks become woody. There’s no need to waste the bases – they add a lovely flavour to homemade stock.

Here are our top 5 recipe picks to make the most of this seasonal star.

Asparagus, Spinach & Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts & Wootton White


This is a simple and nourishing dish, making a veg hero of asparagus. A bed of lentils and new potatoes are topped with roasted asparagus and one of our favourite cheeses, Wootton White, a British sheep’s cheese that’s made in the same way as feta, for a tangy flourish. Toasted hazelnuts finish it off for a satisfying crunch.

See the full Asparagus, Spinach & Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts & Wootton White recipe.

Asparagus, Potato & Spelt Pizza with Courgette & Rocket Salad


New potatoes, asparagus, red onion, courgette, rosemary and more top this satisfying spring pizza. A very hot oven and a restrained hand with the toppings are the key to a good end result. The temptation is to load it with all kinds of goodies, but the deeper the toppings, the soggier the result and the longer the cooking time. We suggest turning the toppings in a dash of oil so that they roast on the pizza rather than scorch in the intense heat.

See the full Asparagus, Potato & Spelt Pizza with Courgette & Rocket Salad recipe.

Risotto Primavera


A classic Italian dish, using any seasonal spring veg. Here we’ve chosen asparagus, broad beans and spring onions, adding a fresh herby hit to finish off the dish. The onion, celery and carrot trinity are known in Italian as ‘soffritto’ (literally, ‘slow-fried’); they give a good flavour base to any risotto, soup or stew. The two minute wait at the end, stirring in butter and Parmesan to finish is known as the ‘mantecura’; it adds the final creamy touch to the dish.

See full Risotto Primavera recipe.

Asparagus & Portobello Noodles


A quick, satisfying bowl of egg noodles in a soy and hoisin sauce, with ginger, garlic and chilli and seasonal veg asparagus. Portobello mushrooms, cashew nuts and coriander finish it off nicely. The cooking for this dish is done at such a pace that it is vital to have all your ingredients prepared and to hand before you start, preferably in the order they are to be used.

See full Asparagus & Portobello Noodles recipe.

Asparagus & Perl Las Blue Tart


This vegetarian tart pairs asparagus with many of its foodie friends; blue cheese, eggs, nuts, fennel and citrus. We’ve suggested serving them with a fennel, orange and hazelnut salad, but any salad you have to hand would work.

See full Asparagus & Perl Las Blue Tart recipe.

Atlantic ales – a gingery summer ale and a hoppy pocketful of sunshine

Over the years, we’ve scoured Britain for the best organic beers and ciders from small independent breweries. Our bottle shop is now looking full, varied and flavoursome… we’re always keeping an eye out for exciting new offerings though. The latest to catch our attention: Atlantic Brewery, based in our Devon farm’s neighbouring county Cornwall. Here’s a short blog to introduce the very worthy new additions to our shelves.

Atlantic Brewery was set up by Stu Thomson in 2005, when, in a career-changing move, he started home-brewing in the garage on his farm near Newquay. Stu’s aim was to prove that unfined, vegan and organic ale could be delicious, refined and exciting. 13 years on and Atlantic Brewery is now also Atlantic Distillery, with a thriving orchard and hop field, organic certification, over ten different beers, six gins and soon, two vodkas.

Our first choice is Atlantic Gold, a year-round summer ale spiced with ginger. We love its light, refreshing flavour. It was the brewery’s first commercial brew, inspired by a ginger-spiced ale that Stu came across while travelling in New Zealand, made by a brewery called Monteith. Atlantic Gold is brewed using only pale and wheat malts, which gives it a subtle biscuit malt flavour, and goes excellently with BBQ and spicy food.

Our second new offering is Atlantic Azores, a pale ale with a blend of English and American hops, balancing light, grassy bitterness with grapefruit and orange notes. Stu was inspired to make this brew when he first heard the term ‘mid-Atlantic’ to describe a fusion of English- and American-style pale ales. He loved the idea of balancing the vibrancy of new world hops with the refinement of English pale ale. He chose the name Azores to emphasise the point, and describes it as “a hoppy pocketful of sunshine in a glass.”

Atlantic Azores drinks very well with dishes you might have a dry white wine with, like fresh Italian pasta, pizza, tapas, and full-flavoured fish such as monkfish.

When he’s not brewing, Stu is a very good DJ and an avid collector of rare funk and soul records. We hope you’ll enjoy his beer as much we do.

Shop organic beer here.

Guy’s news: Recipe boxes, carthorses & unicorns

It’s hard being a carthorse grazing with unicorns. 30 years of learning our trade and patiently reinvesting profits have served Riverford well, but are we out of step with the herd? Looking around our field, I find us surrounded by a new and impatient breed of business: hungry for growth, and backed by even hungrier private capital. The combination is explosive, and makes scary company for an old nag used to plodding along alone.

For the more grounded among you, a ‘unicorn’ is a privately owned startup company valued at more than $1 billion; think Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox and Pinterest. They call them unicorns because they are so vanishingly rare – but that doesn’t stop a generation of techy wannabes dreaming of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. Home delivery of food ordered over the internet, and recipe boxes in particular, are seen as high-growth areas ripe for unicorn status; Farmdrop, Gousto, HelloFresh and the like vye with the more traditional mammoths like Amazon/Whole Foods and Ocado.

Having declared that Riverford will be sold not to venture capitalists, but to its hard-working, modestly paid staff, we have no access to the cash sloshing around the global economy looking to grow on the back of the next big thing. Instead we must make a profit before we can invest. That means we stick to what we know, don’t spend much on marketing, and look after our long-term customers rather than discounting to tease in new ones; in short, we plod. That might mean we get left behind, worrying about growing veg rather than share value. But it may also mean that those unicorns all chase themselves round the field faster and faster, running in ever smaller circles, until poof! All that is left is a cloud of smoke and some stardust… and we can all go back to our carrots.

Before they got me thinking about unicorns, I meant to write about our organic recipe boxes. We don’t advertise much, but they really are the best. You can now choose whichever recipes you fancy each week: 1, 2, 3 or more, including new vegan options. We’ll deliver everything bar the salt and pepper for your chosen recipes. All the joys of cooking with good ingredients, with none of the waste or the faff of planning.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 reasons to order a Riverford recipe box

Whether you’re short on time, stuck in a recipe rut, or want to eat well without the fuss of planning and shopping, our organic recipe boxes are a simple and inspiring way to cook.

We’ve recently refreshed the range, adding vegan options, and the ability to mix and match recipes. Here are 5 good reasons to order a Riverford recipe box:

It will transform your cooking
Choose from 12 weekly changing recipes written by the cooks based on our Devon farm. Our veg nerd chefs, Kirsty, Val and Bob, draw their inspiration from the seasonal veg growing on the farm to write inspiring, creative and original recipes, so you’ll cook something new every time.

It’s faff free
Every box comes with all the ingredients you need measured out, step-by-step recipe cards and helpful cooking tips. All the joy of cooking, none of the hassle.

It’s 100% organic with 0% waste
Over 30 years’ experience of growing and cooking goes into your box. All our fresh, seasonal ingredients are organic. We send you the exact amount you need, so you won’t end up throwing anything away, or with endless half pots of this and that cluttering your kitchen.

You can order what you like, whenever you like
Choose from any number of 1-12 recipes to feed two people, as often or little as you like, with the option of adding any other items from your weekly shopping list (veg, fruit, dairy, milk, kitchen cupboard) to your order.

Delivery is free
And even if you’re not in, you can place your order and know you’ll be coming home to an evening of hassle free cooking and an inspiring home cooked meal.

See upcoming recipes, find out more and order here.

Guy’s news: Sauerkraut for cows

After three frantic weeks, we are very nearly caught up with the planting; just a few more rhubarb crowns and artichokes to go, and we will be there. Most crops are establishing well, but even the recent glorious weather won’t make up for a month’s delay in starting – making a long, hungry wait for the first harvest.

South Devon has come alive with the hum of mowers as dairy farmers take their first cut of silage. The grass is cut, bruised to speed wilting, and left for a day to dry, before being windrowed (raked into rows) for the forage harvester; a ravenous, roaring beast which seems to get bigger and faster with every passing year. Back at the farm, the finely chopped grass is rolled into a ‘clamp’ (a heap that is covered and compressed) to exclude oxygen. This promotes the anaerobic fermentation which generates lactic acid, thereby pickling and preserving the grass. It’s sauerkraut for cows on a huge scale; they will each eat about ten tonnes through the winter. These early cuts give lower yields, but the grass is more digestible. So, provided there are enough sugars to feed the right bacteria, quality will be good, the cows will eat more and produce more milk.

Silage is undoubtedly a more efficient and advanced way of preserving grass than haymaking, which normally requires five to seven consecutive dry days, making it risky, time consuming and often frustrating. However, the early and frequent cutting used for silage is less good for ground-nesting birds. Traditional hay meadows were typically cut in July, when most nesting was complete and a diverse range of grasses and flowers had set seed. The transition from hay to silage gained momentum in the 1960s; silage must now account for 95% of forage conservation in the UK. Its rising popularity is also associated with a move from species-rich permanent pasture to monocultures of sweet, high-yielding ryegrasses which respond well to nitrogen fertilisers. Organic farmers will have more diverse mixtures, including clovers and sometimes more varied grasses, but nothing to compare with the species richness of traditional hay meadows – or the sweet smell of well-made hay. Despite silage’s flaws, it is good to see (or rather hear) the dairy farmers getting started, just as we finish catching up ourselves.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 vegetarian recipes for May

May is a tricky time of year for us, as we’re a midst The Hungry Gap; the time of year when the winter crops have tailed to an end and we’re still waiting for the first of the summer veg. However, with the help of our French farm, the organic growers we work with in Spain and others, we’re able to keep the boxes full and vibrant.

From now until late summer our carrots will arrive on your doorstep with their gorgeous green tops. Don’t immediately toss them on the compost or give them to the nearest rabbit or guinea pig, but instead eat them. They are especially good made into a pesto.

Other highlights for May include broad beans, asparagus and spinach. Here are 5 recipes to keep your plate colourful and veg filled.

Crushed Broad Bean Bruschetta

A delectable vegetarian springtime starter. If you make this early in the broad bean season, while they’re still small and soft, you can skip the double podding that broad beans usually call for. 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 bean bruschetta recipe

Carrot Top Pesto

Carrot tops are full of flavour, and like the leaves of other roots (e.g. celeriac or beetroot) if they’re in reasonable nick, they’re good to eat – so don’t throw them on the compost. Pick off and discard the larger stems, keeping the feathery leaves. This pesto is great tossed through pasta, or drizzled over roasted carrots, new potatoes or greens. Try crumbling mozzarella or sheep’s cheese over the top too.

See full carrot top pesto recipe

Asparagus, Spinach & Lentil Salad

This is a simple and nourishing dish, making a veg hero of asparagus, a favourite spring vegetable. We suggest topping with one of our favourite cheeses, Wootton white, a British sheep’s cheese, but feta or soft cheese will work.

See full asparagus, spinach & lentil salad recipe

Spinach Linguine with Roasted Tomatoes

Avoid wasting leftover bread by drying it out, blitzing and sprinkling onto pasta dishes like so for a little crunch. Here breadcrumbs top linguine pasta with wilted spinach, sweet, juicy roasted tomatoes, a garlicy hit and a kick of chilli.

See full spinach linguine with roasted tomatoes recipe

Sweet Potato, Spinach & Almond Curry

This is a mildly spiced curry with warming garam masala, a mix of aromatic spices that includes clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin. Lightly bashing the cardamom opens up the seeds for more flavour. Seasonal spinach adds a hit of green, and can be interchanged with swiss chard or spring green.

See full sweet potato, spinach & almond curry recipe

Guy’s news: Supermarkets, muckspreaders & unholy couplings

I’m very excited about my ‘new’ muckspreader. Actually it’s twenty years old, and tiny; a toy by modern standards, spreading a mere tonne at a time. No one else wanted it, but I think it’s just perfect for the job, spreading its load with a light, nimble touch on the land. Can a muckspreader be elegant? We do have a larger one, taking ten tonnes and needing a 150hp tractor to pull it; this behemoth is a cheaper way to get the job done, but it crushes everything in its path, leaving a trail of destruction behind. The true cost of its lumbering is long term and subterranean, making it hard to resist the short term benefits of speed, convenience and cost. Nobody asked the earthworms, but I squirm in sympathy as the beast devours their homes.

The unholy coupling of Asdapod and Sainsceratops will create a clumsy gargantuan, let loose to destroy all in the path of its flailing battle with Tescosaurus rex. More anonymous, over-travelled, additive-laden food, larger distribution centres, more low-paid jobs… The earthworms here will be the helpless, invisible suppliers: forced to wait ever longer to be paid while their cash feeds the beast’s insatiable appetite for growth, and squeezed to extinction just to shave a penny off the price of butter. No, I don’t think the merger is a great idea. I used to feed these monsters myself, before side-stepping into a cave too small for them.

How do we turn this around, for some sanity to prevail? It took a massive meteorite strike to end the dinosaurs’ reign, allowing those freaky, light-footed mammals on the fringes to have their day. Might the internet topple the vast, inflexible beasts? Perhaps, but beware the voracious Amazonosaurus.

But it hasn’t all been bad news. The EU virtually banned neonicotinoid insecticides last week, as the evidence of their contribution to the catastrophic decline of bees and other pollinators became overwhelming. Michael Gove, Defra, and the UK government’s advisory panel on pesticides even led the way. Well done.

Guy Singh-Watson

How do fields get their names?

By John Richards, who manages the fields on our Devon farm.

Every field in the countryside has a history, a story, and unique characteristics based on its location, soil type and topography. And when farmers walk around their land, each field will stimulate a wave of memories and feelings both good and bad – perhaps remembering a particularly fine crop, or the year when a crop was lost to weeds.

For example, last Friday afternoon, the team were out in our field Eastaway, planting pak choi in far from ideal conditions. Some plants were oversized due to the forced delays of the cold spring, and the claggy soil was not flowing well. I suddenly had a flashback to a similar situation in the same field in 2002; on that occasion the plants rooted out and produced quite a good crop. These experiences give us some hope that, despite the poor conditions, we may yet get some decent pak choi in 2018.

Fields may have been named after something either long gone or still there. We grew winter cabbages in a rented field near Buckfastleigh called Minefield. The old mineshaft was still there, long since filled in, but marked by a pile of rocks. It is likely to be associated with some extensive copper mining activity that used to take place at the nearby Brookwood Mine.

Well Pathfield is the field above the main road to our farm. It references a spring that still emerges out of the rock in the copse in the corner, supplying fresh water to the hamlet and farm.

When I was 18 I worked on a small 50-cow dairy herd near Ware in Hertfordshire. There was an intriguingly named field near the canal called The Cat and Monkey. Apparently, it was named after an old pub which fell into dereliction between the wars and has now completely disappeared.

Our 500-acre farm at Sacrewell near Peterborough has fields in an area that formed part of the strip-cultivated open medieval field system. Field names like Cottager’s Piece are based on the arable land being divided into a multitude of strips (or ‘selions’), each managed by different individuals, with the strips distributed around the whole land block. Strips were aggregated into furlongs, and these into fields. Short selions fitting into triangles between furlongs, tracks and paths were known as ‘gores’ and ‘butts’ – terms which are still used by country folk in the midlands to this day.

The same crops were grown by all the farmers on each furlong, and each field was left fallow (ploughed but not sown) every second, third or fourth year. The system was collective, and farmers shared some of the labours of cultivating each other’s strips. Between 1635 and 1720, most of these open fields were largely enclosed under the Inclosure Acts, essentially privatizing and replacing the strips with a grid of large, hedged, straight-edged fields.

Land changing hands is a vulnerable time when field names can be forgotten. When we took on a new 40-acre block of nearby land called Hills, it was split into 3 distinct fields, but we had no idea of the names. In haste I rather unimaginatively named them Hills Big, Hills Small and Hills Triangle. Later chatting to Pop, the dairy farm’s tractor driver, he could remember their original names and we subsequently changed them back to Barkingdon Pathfield, Great East and Barton Town respectively – a great improvement!

Field names often reflect their size, location or topography e.g. our fields Eastaway, West Park, Far Field or Big Field. The irony of Big Field is that it has been getting steadily smaller over the years as land has needed to be taken for developments like The Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant, barns, yards and car parks. The photograph was taken in June 1997 looking down on a much smaller and more compact site than we have now, with the vegetable beds running virtually right up to the barns (which are now our offices).

Wash farm, June 1997

To finish, I must share with you my all-time favourite field name. It was a rented field not far away, known as Dead Sheep field because that was what was in it when the farmers first took over their farm.

Guy’s news: And we’re off!

The sun is out, the birdsong is deafening, and every available hand and tractor is frantically at work catching up on six wet lost weeks. Most of our well-drained, south-facing slopes have been mucked, rotovated and ploughed. It then typically takes two or three days of sun and wind to dry the soil enough to allow the cultivators to create a good seedbed for the planters and seed drills.

Many of the older plants, forced to wait out the bad weather in trays, have grown leggy and vulnerable. This makes the mechanical planters unreliable; progress is slow, with a team following the machines to fill in the gaps and right toppled plants by hand. But, as we get into younger plants, the pace is already quickening. The planting team is followed immediately by the fleecers. They cover the vulnerable plants with ultra-light floating crop covers that will boost temperatures and humidity, reducing stress and helping these plantings to catch up on some of their lost growth. By the time you read this, we should have planted most of the backlog of pak choi, lettuce, chards, cabbages, peas and beans. In the polytunnels we are ripping out the winter salads to make room for for basil (already planted), tomatoes (next week), cucumbers and chillies (early May). Next we just have to wait; there won’t be much to pick before mid-June. The danger is that we will then be overwhelmed with a tidal wave of greenery.

After six weeks of shortages, the warmth and sunlight have brought on a last flush of leeks, cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli. Just like the noisy birds, they are all change, from dull survival to frenzied reproduction in a matter of days. For nearly a year the leeks have been quietly producing new leaves, but the rising temperature and lengthening days flip a switch in their stems: a ‘bolt’ emerges from the base of each, pushing up with triffid-like speed and unpalatable woodiness. Given the chance, they would carry the starburst flower characteristic of the allium family. The next ten days will be a rush to beat the bolts and get the leeks picked for your tables.

Despite the hectic activity, no one is complaining. It is a relief to walk with mud-free boots, to feel the sun on your back and to have finally made a start… albeit a late one.

Guy Singh-Watson