sharing the load
Running a box scheme is far from easy; even at a small scale, to do it all yourself you need to be a master of horticulture (growing at least 50 different crops), with a good understanding of your customers as well as a practical grasp of logistics, finance and IT. We decided early on to work with other growers and formed a cooperative where we could each specialize in a limited number of crops while sharing labour, technical knowledge and specialist machinery. After fifteen years we are still experimenting and learning, but the underlying principle of achieving the benefits of scale and specialisation through cooperation between smaller family businesses has proved to be a winner for all of us.
If it could work in Devon why not elsewhere? Rather than risking losing our soul with ever increasing scale in Devon we have used what we have learned to work with other growers to deliver local(ish) boxes elsewhere in the country. Some have attributed this mental restlessness to a megalomaniacal craving for world dominance, but I like to think it is more to do with liking to help make worthwhile things happen. First there was River Nene on the edge of the Fens, then River Swale in Yorkshire, closely followed by Riverford on Upper Norton Farm in Hampshire and now Riverford on Stockley Farm in Cheshire. Teaming up with John Walton, a practical, enterprising, open-minded farmer who has farmed at Stockley since 1983, and working with other local growers means that we will soon be able to deliver boxes across most of the North West. The bulk of the veg continues to be grown by local growers, though when we need to import we work together and the sister farms sometimes swap produce, for example early potatoes from Devon or onions from the drier East. Between us we are now able to deliver boxes just about anywhere in England plus most of South Wales.