Tag Archives: Guy Watson

Riverford veg boxes – Ethical Product of the Decade

We are all beyond thrilled to have been given this title by the Observer Ethical Awards 2015. We were up against some truly deserving competition such as the Fairtrade banana, whom we support and respect and who would have been a very worthy winner, along with Divine chocolate which I have long admired for their unerring commitment to their producers. But we can’t help being delighted that it was us.

For almost 30 years, I have aimed to use the business to make the world a slightly better place, one veg box at a time. Put simply we want to give people good, fresh, flavoursome, ethically-produced food that they can trust, produced and delivered in a way that gives a fair deal to farmers, animals, customers, staff and the environment. This means not going for easy answers (which are nearly always the ones that would be better from a marketing point of view), but looking for an informed and balanced solution to the many dilemmas we face in farming, business and food production. This often challenges our customers’ intuitive judgements and our success as a business would have been impossible without the trust and commitment of our many longstanding customers; they enable us to farm and trade with others for the long-term, as we would really like.

Vegetables are at the heart of what we do, and we are happy to be called veg nerds. As well as our four organic UK farms and one in France, we work with South Devon Organic Producers, the cooperative of local family farms I set up, sharing machinery and expertise to show that it is absolutely possible to grow good food at scale, without using environmentally harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides. Everything that we grow is selected for flavour; our carrots taste so good because they are selected and grown to be so, rather than to grow fast or to withstand bulk handling or to be cosmetically perfect. Our meat also comes from small-scale organic farmers with some of the highest animal welfare standards around. We aim for the shortest possible journey from the farm to the abattoir, with all meat handled in a totally transparent operation, with minimum processing and zero abusive practice at any stages. We encourage a ‘meat and ten veg’ attitude to meat consumption: let’s eat less of it, less often, and of better quality.

I really believe that you don’t have to be a bastard to be successful in business. Good business practice is almost as important to me as good farming. People management is not a skill that comes naturally to many farmers (and possibly not many entrepreneurs), me included, but I am very proud of having created a business that staff believe in and increasingly say is a very special place to work.

In summary, I want Riverford to be all about good food, good farming and good business; and about family farms, not factory farms. We hope to encourage people to ask questions about where their food comes from (without being preachy), and to treat food not as something anonymous, but as something to respect, enjoy with friends and family but in the clear and transparent knowledge of the journey it has made to the plate.

As far as we are concerned, the best things in life are shared, and food, good food, is the greatest example of this, and we want it to be available to everyone. It is very rewarding to have had this accolade from the Observer.

Guy Watson

Riverford Sourcing Policy

  • All produce/goods must be organically certified, where possible with the Soil Association, which we see as the gold standard in the UK.
  • We source as locally as is sensible, observing the principle of ‘right plant, right place’, so not growing veg where it does not belong. Each of the four regional Riverford farms grows locally as much of what they sell themselves as possible, using veg grown on our farm in France to fill the ‘hungry gap’.
  • We do not use produce from heated glasshouses, as the carbon footprint of such veg is greater by a factor of between 3 and 10, compared with growing, for example tomatoes and peppers, in the closest place (Spain) with the right climate and transporting them. More details on this at www.riverfordenvironment.co.uk.
  • Each farm has a cooperative or grower group of local farmers who we work with in the long term. Prices and volumes are set in advance, and we stick with our growers, providing a level of income security that is far from how many of the supermarkets operate. We work in exactly the same way with our small group of Spanish growers.
  • We never, ever air-freight anything, due to the enormous carbon footprint of this method of transportation. Anything we import comes by container ship or truck only.
  • We buy direct from the growers. This makes the produce more affordable by cutting out layers of middle men, helps family farms remain profitable, and helps make our farm to plate chain as transparent for our customers as possible.

Ben’s meat blog: ‘Horsegate’ a few months on

It’s been a tough start to the year for the conventional meat industry – ‘horsegate’, closely followed by more research showing that a diet heavy on processed meat products isn’t a good option.

Two seemingly separate issues, in practice closely connected. Now that we have had a month or two to reflect, and the emotional outrage has dissipated, we are left with a murky picture of duplicity and dodgy dealings. The food ingredients industry is partly made of unaccountable, offshore, often privately-owned trading companies with tentacles extending all over the world. Containers of frozen and chilled product crisscross Europe, and the world, controlled from an anonymous computer in a hidden away office – these people don’t want a high profile. Given that this is the world we live in, and governing international traders in offshore locations is nigh on impossible, you could argue that we all got off lightly – this time.

It’s made the multiple retailers shout about provenance and buying British, but in practice that won’t extend beyond meat cuts on the shelves. They can set up supply chain audits to their hearts’ content but when the main driving force is price and the quest for cheap food, what are they worth? They might get the right species but that still leaves plenty of scope for abuse. Drugs and antibiotics, concealed fat, mechanically recovered and tenderised meat, animal welfare etc aren’t going to show up in a DNA test. And don’t get all NIMBY and say it’s only our continental cousins who are to blame.

Question: Where does all this dodgy meat end up?

Answer: In processed meat products. Hence,including both in this blog.

Question: Is food processing and technology for the benefit of the industry or the customer?

Answer:We might convince ourselves that it’s making our lives easier and bringing us food that we can’t make at home, but the main driver is adding value, extending shelf life and making money – so the answer for ten is industry. The contents of a factory made sausage or pâté bear no resemblance to what you might make at home. Obviously we don’t make turkey twizzlers and the like, but I wouldn’t want to. I can’t believe that I would be writing this if all processed meat products were made with a view from the customer perspective rather than that of the food industry.

At Riverford, and in much of the organic world, things are different. Food technology does have its place in organic food but, thanks to the Soil Association, it is mainly for the benefit of the consumer. The list of ingredients in our sausages, burgers and bacon is short. You can fit them and product costings on the back of an envelope, which was about as close to a business plan as I got.

As one of our butchers said – ‘with our burgers the mincer is only saving work for our teeth’. Now that is the ultimate example of food processing for the customer’s benefit – very much the Riverford way.

Everyday And Sunday – Our Brand New Book

When we started the box scheme it was obvious that, much as our customers aspired to eat seasonal veg, many needed practical help to make it a reality. As the years passed I realised we needed to think beyond the nearest hedge; our fate lies half in what we grow and how, and half in what you all do with it in the kitchen. First there were intermittent monthly newsletters; over time they became weekly and I found myself almost as obsessed with cooking as with growing. In 2005 Jane Baxter, the pro with a pedigree, joined us and we opened the Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant. In 2008, spurred on by rave restaurant reviews and requests from customers, we published the Riverford Farm Cook Book with recipes (mostly from Jane) and rants (mostly from me). It has now gone to its third print run and has won Best First Book and Best Work on British Food at the Guild of Food Writers Awards. We are both very proud of it.

Over the last year we have written another: Everyday and Sunday – Recipes from Riverford Farm. Fewer rants (I seem to have become worryingly placid) and more recipes this time. The “everyday” bit is the simple food you might cook in a hurry for the family on a weekday; the “Sunday” is the more time consuming stuff we would serve in the Field Kitchen. It is organised seasonally by month, with intros from me and most recipes by Jane, with a few from our growing band of Riverford Cooks. Everyday and Sunday is out on 2nd May, as a £24.99 hardback or £18.99 paperback (the paperback is only available through us).

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon

The which? report

You may have read that consumer group Which? has suggested that there appears to be little or no nutritional or taste benefits to growing food organically.

It is very hard to make a sensible comment without knowing how the vegetables were grown, the size of the trial or whether it was replicated as would normally be expected. I would never claim that being organic necessarily guarantees better flavour or nutritional quality. In our experience, flavour and (probably) nutritional quality are a result of:

1. variety

2. soil type

3. growing conditions

4. stage of ripeness or maturity at harvest

5. freshness (time from harvest and post harvest treatment)

I can’t speak for our other growers, but at Riverford we work hard to combine all these factors to give the best flavour. A poor variety grown quickly on Fenland peat with excessive nitrogen can be organic but it can also be disappointing to eat.

On the whole organic growers tend to be more interested in getting these things right, so organic veg is usually better; but it doesn’t have to be. There are of course many other reasons for buying organic, including environmental, animal welfare and absence of pesticide residues.

Guy Watson

How to make celeriac remoulade

Remoulade sounds impressive but it’s really simple. Watch Guy Watson make the starter from our Valentine’s menu.

what’s what in the box – 4th february 2011

What’s what in the box – 17th January 2011

In this week’s video, Guy Watson shows you how to make marmalade.

what’s what in the box – 17th january 2011

order a marmalade kit from Riverford Organic

What’s what in the box – 10th January 2011

In this week’s video, Guy Watson shows you how to cook celeriac soup.

what’s what in the box – 10th january 2011

What’s what in the box – 6th December 2010

In this week’s video, Guy talks about brussels sprouts.

what’s what in the box – 6th december 2010

What’s what in the box – 29th November 2010

In this week’s video, Guy talks about jerusalem artichokes.

what’s what in the box – 29th november 2010

What’s what in the box – 15th November 2010

In this week’s video, Guy talks about cauliflower and broccoli.

what’s what in the box – 15th november 2010

cauliflower and broccoli

These have similar flavours but different seasons. Cauliflower is at its best from September to May, romanesco is in season from September to November. Broccoli is only in season in the UK from June to October. Purple sprouting broccoli is in season from March to April.

All of these can be substituted for one another in recipes but it’s important that when you chop them up you get them into similar sized pieces so they cook at the same rate.

romanesco

Treat it in the same way as a cauliflower, but the florets are longer and thinner and sometimes cook a bit better. It has a crunchy texture and a sweeter, nutty flavour.

broccoli

The stalk is nice and can be chopped up

purple sprouting broccoli

The decision you have to make is how tough it is. Sometimes the base of the stalk is tough, so break it and see if it’s worth peeling.