Tag Archives: nature

Guy’s news: Ode to a fallen oak

January’s first gale finally toppled one of our oldest field oaks. It has stood alone for all my 57 years, increasingly skeletal, surrounded by successive crops of grass, rhubarb, chard, cabbages and grass again. Unlike the more aggressively colonising ash tree, which stunts the growth of any crop within 20 metres, oaks allow grass and vegetables to grow right up to their branches; they seem happy to share, knowing that they will outlive their competitors. In my early years, resentful of the cropping area lost to this old oak, we probably took advantage of its good nature and ploughed too close. It pains me now to think my greed may have accelerated the tree’s end by damaging its roots.

It is said to have taken an incredible 1000 oaks to build Nelson’s HMS Victory, and 2000 plus for the larger ships of the line, leading to a severe national timber shortage by the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Riverford is rich in mature 200- to 300-year-old oak trees, probably planted in response to this shortage. Most stand alone in hedges or fields, where the absence of nearby trees gives them a stately grandeur. Their forms, though instantly recognisable for the sturdiness of their trunks and lacelike finery of their branches, are incredibly varied, shaped (like all of us) by a combination of genetics and growing conditions. Each tree is an ecosystem, home to a myriad of fungal and insect parasites, to little deleterious effect; time and evolution have resulted in tolerant, if not quite symbiotic, co-existence. They have provided grace, shade, shelter and food for centuries… and this one, now fallen, will heat my home for a year or more. My veneration of the ancient trees grows with every year I age myself. In my animist moments, I wonder how the survivors will judge our brief custodial tenure of the landscape they grace.

E-receipts
We have finally phased out the paper receipts in all areas (saving 2.6m bits of paper a year). Most of you have responded that this was long overdue. You will get an e-receipt the morning of your delivery – as long as you have an email registered with us. If we don’t have an email for you, or if you have any other questions, please call your local veg team or the team at the farm.

Guy Singh-Watson

guy’s newsletter: complexity, humanity & nature

According to Adam Smith and most classic economic theory, trade harnesses and drives specialisation and generates wealth. When combined with scale and global trade, specialisation also produces fantastic mobile phones and cars. I’m less convinced that it produces good food in an environmentally and socially acceptable way, but the same trends towards scale and specialisation can be seen in agriculture. Here at Riverford we grow almost 100 different crops and run an incredibly complex business doing everything from farming, to running a restaurant, a commercial kitchen, farm shops, a website and making home deliveries. There is no doubt that things would be easier if we just bought in stuff, put our name on it and contracted out the rest of what we do. However this would make us simply a brand and a marketing machine making nothing, just clogging our consciousness with self-serving nonsense.

I sometimes wonder why I so stubbornly resist the pressure towards specialisation and my best answer is that it does not sit comfortably with human nature, at least not mine anyway. We are chaotic, emotional beings with needs that cannot be satisfied without the variety, autonomy and opportunity to grow in our work often found in small generalist businesses. Nature is also chaotic and gains its resilience from diversity. Modern agriculture with its push toward vast monocultures is as likely to produce environmental harmony as a call centre is to produce social harmony. My observation is that the biggest push to specialisation is lazy management, but what we lose through having to manage complexity we can gain by unleashing the potential of our staff through good management.

One of the things that I am proudest of about Riverford is that we are the real thing; a real farm with real people. My brother does wield a meat cleaver and make those tarts, my other brother and sister do chase cows and I do (occasionally at least) grow vegetables when I am not writing this. And yes, I do write it myself.

Guy Watson