tomatoes: apologies, explanations & excuses

About five years ago we took the decision not to sell crops grown under heated glass. Burning fossil fuels to maintain a temperature of 20°C inside a single glazed greenhouse in the depths of winter is environmental insanity. According to our work with Exeter University, even after accounting for transport, it is ten to twenty times less damaging to import peppers and tomatoes from Spain, where heat is not required (see www.riverfordenvironment.co.uk).Many of us aspire to eat seasonally and locally. From July to October that is no great hardship, but as winter progresses, without heated glass or imports, a vegbox full of UK grown veg becomes dull and repetitive. If we were dogmatic about localism I think we would lose most of you; my ad hoc market research, nosing in customers’ and friends’ fridges, reveals that many people top up our local offering with imports from a supermarket anyway. 

Over the last five years we have worked closely with two growers in Andalucia (Paco and Paco), encouraging them to grow winter crops of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers for flavour rather than cosmetic appearance and yield. We have had great success with peppers, particularly the long ramiros which consistently taste fantastic. Until this winter I thought we were getting there with the tomatoes, but recently they have been sadly lacking in flavour. 

The problem is partly that these first pickings from the new crop are often disappointing (we have the same thing with our home crop in July), compounded by low light levels at this time of year. We are also swimming against the tide in an industry where there is constant pressure to focus on yield, shelf life and appearance. We are trialling some new varieties for next year which look like they will give some improvement, but if we cannot do better I would rather go without. I expect this year’s crop to improve quickly over the next few weeks as light levels rise. In the meantime, I’d like to offer this slightly lame apology. 

Guy Watson