Category Archives: Rants

The white stuff

My father never got on with sheep (“always looking for a new way to die”), so every morning and evening he milked 30 Ayrshire cows on our farm. In the 60 years since, the rule of farming has been to get bigger or get out, so my brother and sister now milk 250 cows at Riverford. When the local dairy stopped bottling organic milk, Oliver and Louise partnered up with some of the old dairy staff to pasteurise and carton the milk on the farm and to make yoghurt, cream and more recently, butter. I now have 250 words to convince you to buy the stuff. Here goes:

1.It tastes great. Maybe that’s because it is fresher; we go for a seven day shelf life compared to big dairies’ 14. Maybe it is that the cows have a more natural diet of forage (grass, clover etc.), not grain and soya. You can taste a cow’s diet in the milk, as we discovered recently when the cows ate waste apple pulp during cider making season. Not everyone liked it.

2.It’s better for you. Cows that eat more forage have substantially higher levels of Omega 3 in their milk. Most milk is homogenised to break up fat globules to nano-sized particles and stop them from separating out. There is some evidence that these can be absorbed into the blood directly across the gut wall, with potential health implications. We don’t homogenise, leaving you to decide if you want to give the milk a shake or not.

3.It is better for the cows. Our cows suffer less mastitis, less lameness, less infertility and live for much longer. Some super-intensive herds get fewer than two lactations per cow; the average is perhaps three or four. We get five.

4.It’s better for the environment. Our pastures get no synthetic fertilisers or sprays and are seldom ploughed, resulting in more biodiversity, lower use of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide being sequestrated in soil organic matter.

5.You know where it comes from. The milk is all from our cows, 200 yards from the dairy and delivered straight to your doorstep, without being transported unnecessarily or mixed with milk from hundreds of different farms.

Guy Watson

order milk, cream, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy from Riverford

Riverford, restaurants, cooks + cooking

It seems that everyone, from celebrity chef to home cook, is proclaiming seasonal and local eating. When people experience it in our Field Kitchen restaurant in Devon, they leave extolling the virtues of purple sprouting broccoli, parsnip and beetroot. But as a nation we are still struggling to convert aspiration into action in our own kitchens. We know that some of you struggle with the reality of dealing with a vegbox, so we are on a mission to help. We started with the Field Kitchen and followed it with a cook book and recipe-laden website and newsletters. More recently we have been recruiting an army of ‘Riverford Cooks’, a diverse bunch of people unified by a passion for seasonal ingredients and an enthusiasm for passing their skills on. We are recruiting cooks around the country to inspire you in various ways.

‘From the box’ cookery classes. Book a cookery lesson with lunch (or supper) in your home for you and 4-6 friends. Learn new ways to use your vegbox and pick up cooking techniques. £45 per person.

‘Riverford cooks at the weekend’. We’re running a series of residential weekends, starting with ‘a taste of summer’ in Devon from 21st-23rd May. You’ll stay in stunning converted barns and learn a range of summer dishes, eat together and relax. There’ll also be a visit to the Field Kitchen.

The Field Kitchen comes to you. We have fashioned a Mongolian-style yurt from farm-grown ash. It will spend the summer touring the country as a mobile version of the Field Kitchen. Fields and dates tentative – more details to follow.

getting involved

Maybe you find life with a box a breeze. Perhaps you could be a Riverford Cook yourself; most are trained professionals but seasoned amateurs can be just as good at passing it on. We are particularly short of cooks in the North. To book a class, weekend or to become a cook, call 01803 762019 or email recipes@riverford.co.uk. To find out about events in your area and swap recipe ideas, join the online Riverford Cooks community.

Guy Watson

Food Standards Agency report on organic food – customer response

Contrary to most of the press coverage, the Food Standards Agency report published last week did not prove that organic food was no better for you than non-organic. It merely showed that there was no conclusive evidence either way, on the grounds of a limited review of existing research into a limited range of nutrients taken in isolation.

A customer’s thoughts
Thankfully many of our customers read past the headlines. Diane sent us this email in response to the FSA report:

“Firstly I would like to thank you for todays box of fresh, tasty, reasonably priced, nutritious vegetables, grown with conscience and compassion and most importantly without man-made chemicals.

I have just read the accompanying newsletter entitled ‘misguided?’ and I thought perhaps a ‘customer’ reaction to the FSA’s report might be gratifying for potentially damaged morale.  I personally found the well publicised conclusion of the report somewhat incredulous; how can such a statement be made when only a number of nutrients have been considered and no other aspect of production has been taken into account.  Additionally, does this statement truly reflect analysis that shows a positive increase in a number of important nutrients but which appears to have been ignored on the basis that there are too few studies to take the data from.  During the last week it has become very apparent to me that many people simply scan read the newspaper primarily noting the headlines, no doubt as a result of our busy lives.  Such statements/headlines are therefore often taken out of context with potentially damaging results.  Perhaps we need to consider who stands to gain from such statements; are the interests of the global chemical giants being protected here? One would hope not but it is a worrying thought.

Keep up the good work Riverford, we still love you despite what you may read in the papers!”

battle in the skies

We all know that air travel is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, so should the Soil Association try and discourage bringing organic vegetables to the uk by air? Or even refuse to grant anything air freighted organic status? If so, what about the African farmers just starting to make a living selling the organic green beans flown in to the UK?

At Riverford we have never air freighted anything, but we know it’s a complex issue and there’s an interesting consultation document on the Soil Association website

As Anna Bradley, Chair of the Soil Association Standards Board says: “as awareness of climate change has grown, concerns have been raised about the damage caused to the environment by air freight.

However, when reducing our impact on the world’s climate, we must carefully consider the social and economic benefits of air freight for international development and growth of the organic market as a whole.”

Is antibiotic over-use causing MRSA in farm animals?

There’s a rather scary podcast on the Soil Association website about how intensively-farmed animals are devoloping a form of MRSA, which is spreading like “wildfire” in Europe and transferring to humans.

In Dutch hospitals a terrifying 25 per cent of all MRSA cases are now caused by the farm-animal strain, and farmers are no longer permitted in general wards without prior screening.

Scientists are blaming the over-use of antibiotics for creating the drug-resistant strain, and an almost untreatable form of e-coli, which means death for 30 per cent of people who contract it.

All of which makes a powerful case for organic farming!

can you really buy green?

The debate is really hotting up about ‘green’ consumerism.

George Monbiot wrote a piece in the Guardian recently arguing that buying green is not good enough, we should be buying less, and ‘ethical’ options are becoming just another way of showing how rich you are. Now the chief executive of the National Consumer Council, Ed Mayo, has written a piece in response saying that buying green does make a difference.

Presumably the sensible middle ground is to buy less rubbish, and make sure the stuff you need – like food – is sourced as ethically as possible? Besides, it doesn’t even have to be more expensive. A Riverford box is ususally cheaper than supermarket organic food, and compares very favourably with their non-organic produce.

Tesco’s “local” milk has travelled 150-miles

According to a story on the BBC News website today the milk Tesco sells branded as “local” has travelled over 150 miles from where it was produced. The supermarket claims that shoppers who buy Localchoice milk are “helping to support their local farming community”, but the Heart of England version it sells in Hereford is actually produced in Derbyshire and Lincolnshire!

In it’s defence Tesco said: “There is no legal definition of local.” Well, perhaps there should be!

Carrots & why supermarkets can’t have it their way

Some of you have already commented on the media hoo-ha over Sainsbury’s rejecting the head of the Soil Association’s carrot crop. As the eventual buyers of Patrick Holden’s carrots, we think that this saga highlights the lunacy of the supermarkets’ controlling and overly centralised approach to buying and selling food.

Sainsbury’s said they rejected the carrots because they were destroyed by rot. The fact is that we eventually bought over half Patrick Holden’s crop in grade A condition and our veg box customers loved them – rightly so because they were great.

When it comes to rejecting crops, the supermarkets like to make out that their hands are tied. The reality is that they are incredibly prescriptive in what they deem acceptable. Shape, size and minor blemishes all lead to rejection, waste and a financial squeeze for farmers.

The supermarkets demand that 75% of a crop is packable which is why the farmers that supply them are often forced to focus on appearance at the expense taste. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Veg box schemes like ours cut the supermarkets out of the distribution chain and this has to be good for both farmers and for customers. There is life beyond the supermarkets and it tastes good.