Riverford Wicked Leeks

warming you up for a new year price rise

The year started cold and looks as if it will end the same way. For the last two weeks, harvesting and delivering veg has required thermals, pickaxes, salt and true grit. Your box contents and delivery times may have varied but it is a huge credit to the tenacity of our pickers, packers and drivers that over 98% of deliveries got through. In Yorkshire it has been the coldest start to winter on record, with several nights at -15°C. Despite these record lows, we were lucky that the snow came before the freeze in the north, creating an insulating blanket. This has prevented the ground from freezing, allowing us to dig roots, and if it gets warm enough in the afternoon, to prise a few leeks from the ground. During the mornings, they are frozen so hard they shatter at the merest brush of a welly.

In Devon we don’t expect hard frosts before mid December. With several minus eights, it is the coldest start to winter I have known in 25 years of growing veg. Without the snow, the ground is hard as iron; frozen to several inches. Most days the surface thaws a little in the afternoon on south facing slopes, allowing us to rush out and pick as many cabbages, sprouts, leeks and kale as we can before the frost descends again as the sun dips.

We agree prices with our growers in the autumn and set box prices for the year in January, hoping to be left with a 4-5% profit to share with staff and reinvest. As the current year progressed it emerged that we got our sums wrong and will end the year with little or no profit. Fuel and packaging prices, plus the inexplicable strength of the Euro, have played their part, but the biggest problem was getting carried away with asparagus, French beans, mixed salad and other delightful but pricey veg. To keep the quality of the boxes up we need an average box price rise of around 5%. As I write, the bean counters are still doing their sums but when they have finished we will post the new prices on the website, ready to introduce in the New Year.

Sorry; making good quality organic food affordable continues to be our mantra, but we achieve nothing if we go bust doing it. To put things in context, food inflation is generally running at about 4-7% and our boxes continue to be around 20% cheaper than supermarkets. If you are feeding a large family and feeling skint, try the Roots + Greens box, perhaps fortnightly; lots of hearty veg at not much more than half what you would pay in the supermarket.

P.S. Bananas hate the cold and suffer chill damage below 8°C; it has been a challenge to keep them above that recently. When the skins go a little grey, they are generally fine to eat but if you are not able to use them please let us know so we can replace them or offer a refund. Or see the banana bread recipe on our website! Squash and avocados also hate the cold; get them into your warm house as quickly as possible.

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon