Riverford Wicked Leeks

harvesters, social injustice & surf

People often ask me where the inspiration for these newsletters comes from. Generally my weekly musings reflect my ambles around the farm and current preoccupations, but when these are deemed too dull or libellous, I ask my staff to tell me something interesting. A groan goes up, but I normally get something.

This Wednesday, with my deadline looming, they have all let me down. The latest gale has washed away the rail link that once took my father’s milk to London, but the river is still within its banks and our polytunnels still standing. A team is out pulling leeks and another cutting swedes. They have tracked vehicles designed to get the crop to the gate with minimal soil compaction (one of my better inventions) but there is no escaping the mud and rain driving into the best waterproofs. I really don’t think I could do it anymore. It’s a travesty that when they hose off their boots and shed their oilskins they have earned a small fraction of the pay of the most mediocre lawyer or city banker. We do our best to close the gap with a staff profit share, but the social injustice remains.

In France our early lettuces are suffering from fungal disease brought on by persistent warmth, high humidity and very low light levels. The sun-loving lettuces simply have no vigour to fight back. As a last resort we will introduce a harmless (to us and the lettuce) antagonistic fungus designed to out-compete the pathogens on the leaf and root surface. I am not optimistic and suspect the only real hope is some bright, cold weather. In my career I have tried all sorts of organic, hocus-pocus products purporting to ‘bolster the vigour’ of ailing crops but mostly they just appeal to our need to feel we have done something. I might as well go and kneel in front of the Buddha that one of my more broad-thinking staff installed outside the office.

Doom, social injustice and lack of faith; not my finest work. Let’s hope for inspiration next week. A 28 foot swell is rolling up the channel and it’s too wet to do any farming so I’m heading for a protected cove with my surfboard. There’s nothing like taking a beating from the Atlantic for making me forget about veg.

Guy Watson