It always annoys me when we have to buy stuff in. In a childish, probably very egotistical way, I want us to grow it all ourselves. I would even love to brew our own beer, bake bread, run a cookery school, make sunflower oil on the farm in France and more besides. What’s my problem with specialisation, trade and scale? Maybe it’s time for me to get over it and accept that the economist/moral philosopher Adam Smith and his mates had a point; it is stupid to try and do everything yourself.
I have a neighbour near our farm in France who grows 400 acres of baby leaf salad. He is not evil; he uses a minimum of pesticides and artificial fertiliser, supports several development projects in Africa, looks after his staff well, lends his incompetent and chaotic neighbour (me) his machinery and is thoroughly likeable. Over two generations he and his family have specialised in growing a very narrow range of crops at scale, very well. He did even grow organically for a while but could not find a large enough market. The scale and focus has enabled him to invest in knowledge and machinery and to become so competent that he employs fewer people than me on ten times the acreage. The result is that when he did grow organically, he produced baby leaf salads for €3/kg where I need to get €6 to have a hope of breaking even.
So why do I invest so much energy growing 100 different crops and fighting the progression down the well-worn path towards specialisation? Outsourcing everything and becoming a well-marketed brand with a bit of logistics hidden behind would make our lives much easier, so I can’t find any business logic to support my stubbornness. I like farming, love vegetables and like the idea of you cooking and enjoying them knowing that we have grown them. It’s a personal thing, a deep-seated, perhaps prejudiced belief that something intangible is lost with each trade between grower and table. Growing so many of them for you and sharing the stories of our farmers is a part of what makes Riverford tick, so I reckon we will carry on being mixed up to the the end, however that comes.