Back in the 1990s, when I was still striving to appease supermarket buyers, I was appalled by the waste that inevitably resulted from pursuing their fickle favour.
Vegboxes are the antithesis of this. The contents of your boxes have been meticulously planned; cropping plans and prices agreed with our growers right up to May 2014; a few cabbage seedlings are already germinating under the grass. All that planning and commitment reduces waste, allows our farmers to invest with confidence, and helps us to keep prices down – and stable. Sticking to those commitments makes us a little less flexible and responsive to fashions and trends than we might be; the stuff has to grow first.
Having made our plans and done our sums, we will be putting up vegbox prices by an average of 4.1% on 1st January; sorry, but it’s only once a year. After the worst growing year we have experienced, we need to return a little more to growers, particularly those with the more risky green crops. Most are being incredibly stoical with an unshakeable faith that things can’t be as bad next year, but bank balances have been drained this year and they need the prospect of some profit to keep taking those risks.
A small piece of good news is that we are removing the charges for debit card payments. I have harboured a minor obsession with how these charges are concealed in transactions and as a point of principle wanted to make them visible. However, what started as a principle has become a niggling annoyance to customers and staff so I am bowing to convention on this one. Charges on credit cards will remain: transactions cost more, and most people can opt to avoid them by using a debit card.
Finally, I am officially the BBC Farmer of the Year; a fine honour and one that I cherish dearly. I won the title in 2004 but it means so much more to win when times are hard; I feel we have earned it this time and I can’t stop smiling. The title itself is good, but winning is made so much better by all the messages of support from staff, customers, suppliers and other farmers.
Thanks to you all.
25 years ago, having given up my brief career as a management consultant, I returned to my father’s farm for Christmas to rethink my life. Milking cows in a family partnership hadn’t worked for me; nor had the urban hedonism of 1980s London and New York. I concluded that I was unemployable and so would start my own business.
By Easter, I had ploughed up the best field on the farm and sown my first leeks, lettuces, cabbages and sprouts. I had beginner’s luck; those first seeds emerged well and a demonic determination gripped me. I worked day and night, invested every penny back in the business and was considered mad by my neglected friends and family. I was going to make it in veg if it killed me. I took setbacks personally, but never seriously doubted I had found my path – even when faced with docks, couch grass, pestilence and supermarket buyers. 25 years on I have mellowed a bit, but remain as obsessed by veg as ever. Somehow in the intervening years I have gathered followers (co-op members, joint venture partners, 450 staff, franchisees who deliver your boxes) and spawned a giant. Every three seconds, on one of our four farms, we are packing a vegbox; 40,000 each week. Scale has brought opportunities to challenge the norms of farming and business and I’m fairly sure we have made things a little bit better for our staff, suppliers, the environment and for you, our customers. Without your support I’d still be moaning about supermarkets like a stuck record. Together, we have challenged and fought for a better way, and for that, I am both grateful and proud. From all our suppliers and everyone at Riverford… a big thank you. We’d love to see you at our Pumpkin Days at the end of October for a bit of a celebration – more details to follow.
25 golden carrots – have you found one?
To celebrate our birthday, we’ve hidden 25 golden carrots in our vegboxes this week, Willy Wonka-style. If you find a golden carrot in your box, we’ll bring you a bottle of fizz. Good luck!
Riverford is a family business. All five of the second generation are working on the farm, with our father and founder acting as our environmental auditor. Watson sibling relations are better than most but we are all stubbornly independent, particularly me (veg) and my two brothers: Oliver (dairy with his partners) and Ben (meat, shops, preserves etc). To keep the peace we operate as overlapping but separate businesses; hence the different logos and probably slightly confusing communications.
Ben started butchering and curing my father’s pigs in our garage in 1983. Over 27 years this has developed into three farm shops in Devon, a commercial kitchen making preserves, pies etc and eventually the meatboxes, which we deliver alongside the vegboxes. Ben is as obsessive about good meat and how it is produced as I am about vegetables. He will continue to be the inspiration behind our meat offer but we (the veg crew) are better at putting things in boxes and the logistics of delivery, so this summer we took on the running of the meatbox business.
I hope this development will not put off the vegetarians amongst you. Grass clover leys and the livestock that graze them are vital to building soil fertility between vegetable crops. To support farmers throughout the rotation it makes sense to sell the resulting meat and dairy products. Through our long relationships with these farmers we know where our livestock comes from, the breeds, how it was raised, how it was killed and hung. It is butchered and packed by hand by a dedicated team of skilled butchers who share in the profits.
Most of us eat more meat than is good for us and the planet. We will continue to celebrate the culinary possibilities of vegetables and to challenge the assumption that meat should be the centrepiece of a meal. Last week this approach won our Riverford Field Kitchen the Observer Best Ethical Restaurant award for the second year running; well done to Jane, Sam and their team. We would like to encourage the meat eaters amongst you to enjoy better meat, less often, in smaller quantities and with complete confidence that the animal has been treated respectfully.
You can make bespoke meat or fixed content meatbox orders (the boxes tend to be about 10% cheaper) at www.riverford.co.uk. To find out more about the farmers that supply us, see Ben’s website www.riverfordmeatbox.co.uk.