Riverford Wicked Leeks

our 25th anniversary

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 even 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.  

Twenty-five years on I have mellowed a little but remain as obsessed by veg as ever. Somehow in the intervening years I have gathered followers (coop members, joint venture partners, 450 staff, franchisees who deliver your boxes) - and spawned a giant. There was no master plan, just a lot of determination, hard work, a little delayed gratification, a fair amount of luck and a few character defects to drive me on. 

Somewhere, on one of our four farms, we are packing a vegbox every three seconds; 40,000 of them each week. Is 40,000 better than 4000, or 400, or even the 40 I delivered in the first week of the box scheme from a beaten up 2cv? I have had my doubts and occasionally I am nostalgic for the days of picking on my own and loading my 2cv till the exhaust dragged on the road, but only briefly. Scale has brought opportunities to challenge the norms of farming and business and I love to challenge. I’m fairly sure we have made things a little bit better for our staff, suppliers, the environment and for you, our customers. My father taught me to value being useful and I reckon we have done that. 

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.

Guy Watson