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Let there be soup

The clocks have gone back, heavy coats have been hauled from the cupboard, dark nights are drawing in… Winter is upon us. Good thing we’ve launched our new range of (almost) homemade organic soups to warm you through!

Soupy ambitions

Many moons ago, we set out to create an inspiring range of organic soups. This wouldn’t be the usual characterless supermarket fare, most often made with frozen veg, blended smooth, and given flavour with the conjurer’s trick of bouillon powder. Instead, we wanted to make a selection of recipes with a real Riverford twist. Chefs Bob and Kirsty set out to the kitchen, ladles in hand, with these aims:

  • Lots of our own fresh veg at the heart of every recipe
  • Meat (where it’s used) just as a seasoning, not as the main ingredient
  • Not all blended smooth, but some more like chunky pottages
  • Real depth of flavour from fresh herbs, aromatics and stock
  • A range that can change throughout the year to reflect the seasons

After a lot of experimentation, they whittled it down to four ideas: two veggie, two with meat, and all extremely satisfying.

Dreaming up soup recipes was one thing; working out how to make those same recipes on a larger scale, and keep the vibrant homemade flavour, was another…

A little help from Pegoty Hedge

Pegoty Hedge is a small kitchen owned and run by the Surman family on their organic mixed farm in the Worcestershire countryside, at the foot of the Malvern Hills. As fellow farmers, they share our belief that quality ingredients, treated with care and attention, will give consistently delicious results. Every one of their organic meals is handmade from scratch. The team already cook up our recipes for nut roast and chicken stock, so we were sure they would do the same wonderful job with our soups.

Having received our recipes, Oliver Surman kindly invited Bob up to the farm, to spend some time tasting and tweaking until he was happy that the soups had been faithfully translated into a bigger batch.

As they soon discovered, a chunky soup is much more time consuming to cook and to pack than one that’s blended smooth. The veg needs to be uniformly chopped, and the liquid and chunky bits must be equally divided into the pots. To make our chosen recipes, the team at Pegoty Hedge must prep the fresh veg by hand, and strain and portion each pot individually. But everyone agreed that the extra effort is well worth it for the homemade result.

All adjustments to the recipes were agreed over a civilised cuppa at the farmhouse table, before Bob headed back to Devon with a boot full of soup to unleash on our lucky tasting panel.

Beautiful soups

After all that pondering and tweaking, these are the recipes we’ve ended up with, all spot on for a hearty lunch or light dinner for two people.

Chicken, spinach and courgette laksa

A noodle-laced elixir shot through with fresh veg and slow-cooked chicken. The fresh chicken broth is flavoured with a restorative South Asian fusion of bright Thai-style spicing and deep, earthy turmeric. There’s enough chilli to make you take notice, but nothing too potent, and a good squeeze of lime to finish.

Carrot dhal

This smooth carrot and lentil soup is packed with sweet Riverford carrots and onions, fragrant Indian spices, coconut, ginger and chilli. We’d recommend serving it with warm bread or naan.

Moroccan vegetable harira

This soup is a true meal in a bowl. With all the fragrant flavours of North Africa, it’s chock-full of veg (including Riverford potatoes, carrots and red peppers), rice and chickpeas. A robust lunchtime repast for two, or easily teased into an evening meal with a poached egg, some shredded chicken or warm flatbreads.

Smoked bacon, kale and borlotti soup

A sturdy soup, reminiscent of an Italian ribollita. It has a backbone of Riverford onions, carrots and celery, and creamy borlotti beans, slow-cooked with plenty of sweet tomatoes and finished with robust black kale and smoked bacon. Chunky and filling – made to sate the keenest appetites.

Our new organic soups are available to order now – you can browse the selection here.

Colouring competition winners!

Thank you to everyone who entered our Pumpkin Day colouring competition – we were overwhelmed with the number of entries, and the skills on show!

Arianne, our designer (and illustrator of the blank picture), has picked her favourites. The two winners will both receive a Christmas dinner box, and, as it was so hard to choose, we’ve also picked some runners up (from age categories of 5 and under, 6-8, 9-11, 12-15, and 15+) who will receive an organic advent calendar. We’ll be in touch next week to arrange everyone’s prizes.

THE WINNERS:

Under 15 – Erin from Oxford

Arianne says: Erin, everyone who passed your drawing on our wall studied it in awe. We all loved your imaginative concept, and the idea of a Stranger Things-style dark side to Riverford. Your concept was executed with real talent and passion!

Over 15 – Tom from Plymouth

Arianne says: Tom, your painting is really imaginative and I love the colours. You’re obviously really talented with ink and watercolour, and you really made an effort with staging your post.

RUNNERS UP:
(In no particular order)

 

There’s no such thing as cheap food

By Dan Crossley, executive director The Food Ethics Council

From price wars to round pound deals and special offers, we are surrounded by the notion of cheap food. But what we pay for food at the checkout rarely reflects its real, or ‘true cost’. Our cheap food system is currently being propped up by environmental damage, low wage workers, farm animal suffering and the costs of diet-related ill health to the National Health Service.

Take an avocado, flown from Peru to the UK, refrigerated in a distribution centre, then packaged and driven to your local supermarket. The price tag may reflect what it cost the supermarket to purchase it but how about the greenhouse gas emissions that result from air freighting it, or the long-term impacts of irrigating this (very) thirsty crop? For every £1 we pay for food and drink at the checkout, it’s been suggested that there is (at least) £1 of hidden costs – externalities that the taxpayer picks up. So, should we move towards ‘true cost’ food?

Reluctantly I think the answer has to be yes. I say reluctantly because it’s sad that we have to put a financial value on things like the health of our environment, when we should value it for its own intrinsic sake. But I say yes, because genuinely ‘true cost’ food would, with one fell swoop, mean that healthy, sustainable, fair, humane food becomes (relatively) ‘less expensive’ than unhealthy, unsustainable food. Organic food and farming would be one of the winners in this scenario. If we rely on price signals, then that’s surely a sensible way to go. Arguably the government has made a baby step in that direction already via the sugary drinks levy (internalising a fraction of the diet-related ill health costs currently picked up by the NHS). With ideas such as a meat tax being banded around, will we see further moves towards paying a true cost?

Even more fundamentally perhaps, we need to get beyond the notion that ever cheaper food is somehow a good thing. The reason so many people can’t afford to eat in this country is not because prices aren’t cheap enough – it’s because there are too many gaps in the social security net, because people aren’t paid a real living wage and because we are slipping into a two-tier food system. Rather than being stuck in ‘let’s make it affordable’, let’s reframe the debate to be about how we can help everyone shape a food system that works for all.

Crucially, one of the main benefits of a true cost approach would be that the environment and social costs are no longer hidden, and there is therefore a ready-made incentive to drive negative impacts down. So, in the long-run, moving to true cost food could benefit people, animals and the planet.

It will take time, public support and political backing to move away from the cheap food narrative. Taxing those who pollute more, or who use damaging farming or employment practices, could go some way to open up and address the issue. But for people to favour foods with lower ‘true costs’ we need truthful answers about where our food comes from and how it’s produced. This transparency test could be the catalyst for much needed change.

Dan Crossley is the executive director of the Food Ethics Council. He has worked on food sustainability issues for over a decade, leading projects on food and farming, sustainable diets, animal welfare, carbon labelling and household food insecurity. The ‘true cost of food’ is a growing movement to account for the social and environmental impact of food production and consumption when thinking about prices.

News from the farm

Andy Hayllor, Riverford veg grower & co-op member of 27 years, writes…

Of all the issues caused by this summer’s drought, the one we didn’t expect was seagulls. We had a huge problem with them pulling plants out of rows, looking for moisture or food. We lost 25 per cent of the Calabrese crop this year through seagulls; I’ve never seen anything like it. Summer was extremely difficult all round, soils were like talcum powder and we could barely get the weeding machines through. We’ve now got more weeds than we would normally have, and the crops have had more competition. That said, it’s incredible how well everything has come through the drought… It was looking like it was going to be a total loss, but plants are very clever and they will adapt to the circumstances. They shut down and then start up again when the conditions are right; ours have really come back to life, good and healthy.

I run two farms, with help from my nephew and son, and we grow a range of organic veg for Riverford including potatoes, broad beans, carrots, peas, caulis and black kale, or cavolo nero. We’ve run it on a shoestring this year because last year our Bulgarian field team left; the weather was so bad the year before that they couldn’t face another winter. We have really struggled with finding pickers. We can’t get any British people to do those jobs, so we rely on workers from Eastern Europe. The weather is the biggest challenge but it’s getting harder to find workers since Brexit and the weaker pound. It’s a big worry.

I’ve been with Riverford since the start, so around 27 years now. We’re always trying to find different crops to fill the gaps, like the new Buttonhole kale variety that we planted in June and are harvesting a limited amount of this week. My thinking is you can’t stand still, or you’ll get left behind; people’s tastes change all the time, and we need to grow new crops to reflect that. We have such a different population base now to what we used to, and if we can grow things like pak choi in our climate instead of importing, then we should try and do that. You’ve got to be adventurous or people get bored. And I like trialling new crops – it keeps the job interesting!

Guy will be back writing his regular newsletter next week.

Bees, and ethical veganism

Should vegans avoid avocados and almonds? That’s the question at the heart of a new online debate sparked by an Oxford academic, who has encouraged vegans to consider the fact huge shipments of bees are transported to help pollinate superfood crops, such as almonds and avocados.

The traditional definition of veganism is avoiding food produced by animals, including honey as a product of bees. But Dominic Wilkinson, director of medical ethics at Oxford University, says that, under this definition, perhaps vegans should consider other roles required by bees in modern farming practice.

Almonds are not self-pollinating, and while avocados technically can self-pollinate, they require ‘help’ from pollinators as the male and female parts of the flower aren’t open at the same time. As a result, bees are imported in huge numbers to help pollinate these crops.

The large majority (around 80 per cent) of the world’s almonds are produced in California, where sunny weather and mild winters provide perfect conditions, and has led to a monoculture-type crop cultivation to satisfy the huge demand for almonds in anything from confectionary, cosmetics and dairy alternatives.

According to Wilkinson, speaking to The Times, 31 billion bees are transported to Californian almond farms each year and research showed that the journeys affected their health and shortened their lives, and this strain on bees is what has prompted the debate around ethical vegan choices.

Avocados are another crop that has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity across the world, fuelled by a millennial generation, Instagram and healthy eating, with farmers across the world racing to switch land into avocado production. The huge demand is leading to a monoculture crop system in some countries, leading to a need for ever-greater numbers of pollinators.

Shifting bees around to pollinate crops is not a new practice in farming, and it’s something even organic farmers benefit from, but it may well become more common as bee populations continue to decline.

This year, a landmark decision saw the EU expand a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in all fields, citing evidence that the chemicals pose a “high risk” to wild and honeybees. Last year, a major study done in Germany found that 75 per cent of all flying insects have been lost. The evidence is stacking up, and it’s clear that the problem is much bigger than how to pollinate our orchards of monocultures.

Meanwhile, a recent study by a Dutch university looked at how robot bees could help fill the gap when their real-life counterparts eventually die out. A chillingly pragmatic response to what is already becoming a huge threat to global food production.

On a more positive note, there is clearly an appetite for a more ecological approach to food production, both from farmers and consumers. Organic farmers have long known the benefits of farming without chemicals, with organic land shown to have up to 50 per cent more wildlife and biodiversity, according to the Soil Association. A petition to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, run by campaign group Avaaz, received over five million signatures from across Europe, while an opposing campaign from the agriculture industry fought to maintain access to one of their most-used tools.

As always, any issue around food and farming is multifaceted, and will only become more so as the question of what it means to live ethically continues to gain momentum. And as the recent climate change report by the IPCC highlighted reducing meat and dairy intake as one of the best actions someone can take, the impact of any dairy alternative, including almonds, is a discussion well worth having.

Prioritising one ethical debate over another shouldn’t require a trade-off, but ultimately the vital role of pollinators and bees should always remind us of the need for better farming systems, using fewer chemicals and more diversity to mutually benefit both crops and insect life.

Public and small farmers join forces for Good Food March

Photo – The Gaia Foundation/Twitter

Hundreds of people took the streets of London yesterday (14 October) to call for a better food and farming system in the UK and give small farmers a voice in the new Agriculture Bill.

The Good Food March began at Parliament Square in Westminster and proceeded through the city to Southbank. It was organised by leading food campaign groups and unions, including The Landworkers’ Alliance, The Soil Association and The Gaia Foundation, and had an emphasis on inclusivity in the future of food, stating that “anyone who grows, distributes, prepares, or eats food has a stake in the food system.”

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU and the Agriculture Bill is being finalised we need to ensure farmers are able to produce nutritious, ecological and healthy food and that everybody has access to it,” the group said.

Despite the poor weather, a colourful procession followed a tractor through the streets, with marchers holding slogans such as ‘Resistance is Fertile’ and ‘Hoes before GMOs’.

The march was addressed by Jyoti Fernandez of The Landworkers’ Alliance, who also spoke at a launch event for We Feed the World photography exhibition on the future of food systems after Brexit. She said: “We’re pulling out of the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy, what happens now will affect agriculture for at least the next 50 years. We need to let them know that the public does know and it does care about the future of food.”

Taking place just ahead of World Food Day on 16 October, the march was part of a 10-day series of events to celebrate small farmers across the world and discuss possibilities around the future of food and farming in the UK once it leaves the EU.

The We Feed the World photography exhibition is currently on show at the Oxo Tower in London, featuring 50 small farming communities from around the world, with simultaneous exhibitions taking place globally making it the largest global photography initiative ever attempted.

ITV donates £2m to ground-breaking veg campaign

Broadcaster ITV has donated £2 million to a campaign to promote consumption of vegetables in the form of primetime TV advertising space.

The adverts, part of the Veg Power campaign run by think tank The Food Foundation, will be created free of charge by creative agency Adam and Eve, who produced last year’s John Lewis Christmas ad ‘Moz the Monster’.

Announced yesterday at the Vegetable Summit event in London, the new ads will create “bold, engaging and creative content that will aim for real behaviour change and get everyone inspired to change their attitudes to veg.” They will reach two thirds of households with children, ITV said.

Production charges will be covered by a group of supermarkets, who each pledged to spend £50,000, including Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Lidl, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.

The new funding and alliance of supermarkets is a huge coup for Veg Power, which is backed by food writer and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and was set up to tackle the rise in diet-related illness across the UK by encouraging everyone to eat more veg. It has received crowdfunded support from various other partners, including from Riverford Organic, which donated ten £50 veg box vouchers.

Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “It’s fantastic news that ITV and Veg Power are teaming up to deliver this exciting campaign. The world of veg is full of vibrant colours and exciting and diverse tastes and textures, and we want everyone – especially children – to love them more and eat them more. If they do it will make a huge difference to the health of the nation and the lives of our kids.”

ITV chief executive, Carolyn McCall, said: “We know that the power of TV can be used to shape culture and this new advertising campaign will really amplify the message that we all need to eat more veg by broadcasting to millions of viewers during ITV’s biggest programmes.”

Veg Power is a campaign created by The Food Foundation, and its Peas Please programme, and aims to boost the consumption of vegetables across multiple areas of society, including through advertising, education, accessibility in low-income areas, convenience formats, policy and partnerships with food manufacturers.

‘Unprecedented’ changes needed to tackle climate change

Shifting diets away from intensively-farmed animal products is one of the “rapid and far-reaching” transitions that must happen if global warming is to be kept within 1.5 degrees, a major new climate change report has warned.

Published today (8 October) by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report said that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is possible, but will require “unprecedented changes” in energy, land and ecosystems, urban infrastructure and industry. Currently, the world is on track to see temperatures rise by between 3 and 4 degrees.

As well as a shift in diets, the report also recommended a move to low or zero-emission power, such as renewable energy, electrifying transport, and developing green infrastructure, such as green roofs. Emissions from the livestock industry are one of the top contributors to global emissions, accounting for 14.5 per cent of the global total, primarily from the beef and dairy sectors.

Among the specific changes in land use and food production that would help limit emissions, the report highlighted sustainable diets and reduced food waste, soil sequestration, reduced deforestation and responsible sourcing.

The report was commissioned after the landmark Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which included a pledge to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C.”

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said report co-chair, Hans-Otto Pörtner.

Another co-chair, Debra Roberts, told the BBC: “The report is very clear, this can be done, but it will require massive changes, socially and politically and accompanied by technological development.”

The report lists several major benefits of limiting warming to 1.5, rather than 2 degrees, including smaller losses in staple crops including maize, rice and wheat, and reduced risks to marine biodiversity. Coral reefs are predicted to completely disappear if temperatures rise by 2 degrees, compared to declining by 70-90 per cent at 1.5 degrees.

Sea levels will continue to rise under 1.5 degrees, but 10 million fewer people would be exposed to the risks of flooding than under 2 degrees, the report said.

The report also stressed that for any change to have an effect, it must be a ‘whole systems’ approach that links different sectors together with no trade off.

For example, turning land over to bioenergy crops to reduce reliance on fossil fuels can have a negative effect on food security by reducing the land available for food production, and cause biodiversity loss. On the other hand, reforestation helps absorb carbon dioxide, and can also provide food, work to purify water sources and protect ecosystems.

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said report co-chair, Valerie Masson-Delmotte.

The IPCC is the leading world body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options. The report was compiled by 91 authors from 40 countries.

Autumn squash varieties

The colours and light on the farm are changing as are the crops. The farm is a hive of activity as we excitedly get ready to welcome visitors from far and wide to our annual Pumpkin Day: from Ed, who has once again grown giant pumpkins, to Penny, who has been working hard in the polytunnel and created a lush jungle dotted with colourful gourds.

We love squash – marvellously bright and beautifully varied veg that herald the start of autumn. Our squash are sown in small pots in late April for planting out in mid May, and ready to harvest just at the point of the year when evenings are chilly and thoughts turn to cooking warming, nourishing dishes.

They can be stuffed, mashed, used in hearty salads, stews or risottos. The easiest way to enjoy them is roasted, which brings out the lovely, caramel sweetness. Simply peel and cut into chunks or curved wedges, toss in a little oil to coat and season. You can also add fresh herb sprigs (e.g. rosemary, thyme or sage) or spices (e.g. cumin, fennel seeds, or a little grated nutmeg). Roast at 190°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes, until tender. If the skin is thin you can eat the roasted skin too.

If you are a squash enthusiast or fancy trying something different, our Squash Box is back! A great value way of trying at least 3 different varieties it comes with a recipe card to help you identify and cook them. Here are some basic tips to help you identify and make the most of each variety:

Bonbon

True to its name, the bonbon squash is small and sweet. It has dense, deep orange flesh, with a rich, honeyed flavour that’s really enhanced by roasting it. Top in our taste tests of 20 different squash varieties, it’s a firm favourite here on the farm.

Delicata

This small striped squash has mild, fragrant flesh with a creamy texture. Fantastically easy to prepare: just bake and eat it skin and all, no need to peel. Use as you would a marrow – try cutting it into thick discs and stuffing the hole with fragrant rice or spiced lamb.

Spaghetti Squash

The most mysterious variety, and one we get most questions about! Cut it in half lengthways, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper. Place cut side up on a baking tray and roast for about 1 hour (depending on size) until completely tender. Let it cool a little then scrape across the squash with a fork to separate the flesh into long strands which can be treated like spaghetti and served with sauce, or served cold and dressed as a salad.

Kabocha

Also known as Japanese squash, it can have either green or orange skin. With a sweet, firm flesh, it can be roasted in wedges with the skin left on or simmered, steamed and mashed. Lovely in a fragrant broth or spiced tagine. Add in chunks to a slow braised stew for the final 30 minutes to bring a hearty sweetness to a dish.

Uchi Kuri (Red Onion) Squash

This bright orange onion shaped squash has a softer flesh that is versatile, but perhaps best used for mash and risottos. Its large seed cavity is also ideal for stuffing. Remove the seeds with a large spoon, fill the cavity with a tasty pulse or grain-based stuffing and bake until the squash is tender.

Harlequin

This beautiful small squash is a painterly mix of yellow, orange white and dark green splashes. Inside, the orangey-yellow flesh has good flavour which also lends itself to being stuffed and roasted. A word of caution – never try to roast a whole uncut squash in an oven, they are rumoured to explode!

Sweet Lightning

Another very decorative squash, it may be small but is full of honey sweet, smooth flesh that roasts well. It also makes wonderful silky soups, or simply steam and mash with a small amount of cream or butter and pinch of nutmeg and season to taste.

Storage advice

Squash love to be in a warm dry place and can be stored for a long time like this. Enjoy their decorative charms by storing them on a kitchen shelf until you’re ready to eat them.

Squash seeds

Separate the seeds from the pulp and toss them with a little oil and salt or soy sauce. You can add flavours, such as spices, honey or dried herbs. Spread over a baking sheet and roast at 160°C/Gas 3 for 10-15 mins, until crisp and lightly golden. Once cool, the roasted seeds will keep in an airtight container for a week or so and make an excellent healthy snack, or to add crunch to salads.

Add a squash box to your order here.

Gove unveils new £15m fund for food waste

A new £15 million government fund will help tackle food waste and redistribute the equivalent of 250 million meals to those in need, environment minister Michael Gove has announced.

Speaking at this week’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Gove said the new scheme will specifically address waste from supermarkets and food manufacturers as the first part of a new ‘food strategy’.

“Every year, around 100,000 tonnes of readily available and perfectly edible food is never eaten. This has got to change,” he said. “In the coming months we will work closely with business, charities and volunteers to deliver a new scheme to tackle this problem.”

Leading food waste charity, FareShare, has welcomed the funding and said it will also help producers and farmers to offset costs linked to redistributing food.

FareShare chief executive Lindsay Boswell said: “Right now, it actually costs farmers, manufacturers and packers a lot less to dump or recycle fresh, in date food than to redistribute it to good causes – in part because of the cost of keeping the surplus food fit for human consumption.

“With the barriers to charitable food redistribution removed, businesses will no longer be penalised for doing the right thing with their food: using it to feed people.

“We see this fund as principally for food producers and not the supermarkets. The big supermarkets have already invested in charitable redistribution from their stores and this is about supporting their suppliers to do the same.”


In 2017, 205,000t of surplus food was wasted in the retail and food manufacturing sectors, according to the food waste charity Wrap, with around 100,000t of this estimated to be accessible, edible and available for redistribution. Currently, around 43,000t of surplus food is redistributed every year.

Further action to help cut food waste from all sources, including households, is being considered, Gove said.

Elsewhere in his speech, Gove said the Tories “will launch a new front in the war against waste” and “take steps to make recycling easier”, although offered no further detail.

It comes as this week Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson’s video rant on plastic packaging went viral on social media. In a rallying cry for concrete government action, Singh-Watson explained how efforts to recycle are hampered by fragmented kerbside collection processes across the country that discourage both home recycling efforts, and companies’ sustainable packaging policies.

The video has been shared almost 4,000 times on Facebook and Twitter, including by various high-profile food campaigners and academics. Leading food policy expert, Professor Tim Lang, tweeted: “Interested in plastics? Please watch this heartfelt, angry, informative, funny, demanding short video by Guy Singh-Watson. Says it all, really.”