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Let them eat leeks; a tale of woe

Please take this catalogue of misfortunes in the context that we also count our blessings, still love what we do – and are past the worst of it.

But for most of our growers, much of 2021 has been a disastrous run of bad luck. For many crops, it is simply a case of salvaging what we can, and hoping that next season is better.

Wireworms are the larvae of the click beetle. They are endemic throughout the temperate world, feed on most plants, and can only be controlled using some of the most toxic chemicals available to conventional farmers.

As organic farmers, mostly we just live with them, adapting our cropping to avoid the highest risk situations – but this has been the worst year for them in all my years of growing. They are infesting a potato crop that had already been depleted by blight; we are rushing to get the potatoes out of the ground, but at least a third have been lost.

To try to give the grower some sort of return on the crop, we have reduced the minimum size from 45 to 40mm. We will do our best to spot damaged tubers, but inevitably some will get through – for which I can only apologise, and hope you agree that it is better than devastating soil life with broad-spectrum insecticides.

To add to our troubles, when we needed to plant our autumn crops back in May, we saw three times the average rainfall. The ground was too drenched to plant in, and so many growers, in desperation, eventually planted into wet, claggy soil. Pulling up stunted cabbages, cauliflowers, and Romanesco three months later, we can see that the plants struggled to root.

As we began replanning the veg boxes, our usually ebullient agronomist, Hannah, produced a long list of woes: hailed and frosted apple blossoms, mildew in onions, struggles with weed control in wet weather, labour shortages at harvest… Personally, my years have brought some perspective (and commercial cushioning) to the gloom, but sadly Hannah says morale is low, particularly in our younger growers. She thinks we need a party.

Things are looking up for winter; the humble, bomb-proof leeks are doing well, and our crops of curly kale and cabbages look excellent. We hope we are beginning to emerge on the other side – and we are working hard to keep the quality in your box as high as ever.

We may need to make swaps sometimes when there is an issue with the planned veg; if you ever feel unhappy with something we have sent, please do get in touch with us at the farm so we can make it up to you.

    Comments

    allendeath

    1 Month 1 Week

    I have no comprehension of the stresses of commercial growing but as I have had an allotment for 10 years I often marvel at how difficult it must be to grow large quantities organically. It has made me hugely tolerant of wonky and small veg. We eat everything we grow,. We cut out the bits of black fly from the carrots, the gammy bits in the spuds and even salvage the half corn cobs the badgers leave behind after a rampage. I wonder if you could have a customer database that allows those of us who are happy to accept small/blemished produce to sign up and improve them amount of a crop that can be sold.

    0 Reply

    garryjoneswales@gmail.com

    1 Month 1 Week

    I endorse Allendeath's suggestion here. Most may not have the time or inclination to trim, chop, and recover usable bits of 'small/blemished' veg. But a grade-out bundle at a suitable price might find acceptance.

    0 Reply

    CurlyKaleLover

    1 Month 1 Week

    I was saddened to read of the growers' woes but when I got to the second to last paragraph I felt instantly uplifted. The prospect once again of curly kale roasted with a little oil and salt, as well as leek and mozzarella pizza (Riverford Farm Cook Book by Guy and Jane Baxter) had me salivating. Celebrating the successes will surely help alleviate the pain of the disappointments. Did somebody mention a party?

    0 Reply

    adam42

    1 Month 1 Week

    I love leek soup, and shredded with cheese, they're great too. I guess the problem is, you didn't grow any more of them than usual?

    0 Reply

    anthony roper

    1 Month 1 Week

    Our world in many ways seeks perfection. Some must wear the right clothes, have the right look, holiday in the right place, the list goes on. But we can walk another path where we accept imperfection. In our looks, clothes etc. When it comes to something grown in the ground, mostly outside, we need to be prepared to accept something other than perfection. Long live holy greens, wonky veg, with a few worm holes.

    0 Reply

    Melly

    1 Month

    Yes I am happy to receive small and wonky veg with the odd off bit :)

    0 Reply

    AnnK2

    1 Month

    AnnK2
    Agree with all the above and am up for veg in need of minor surgery or wonky any time.

    0 Reply

    Walrus

    1 Month

    With the problems farmers in general and especially organic ones are having at the moment I strongly believe now is the time to support all the hard and back breaking work and the long hours they put in to bring us something edible at least. If we have to cut a few bits off so be it, actually there's nothing new there, we often cut bits off and discard those bits, tis now that we must in order to eat rather than the so called normal system of picking the bits we fancy. A lot of the time veg is much the same as animal food - it isn't all prime beef steak . . . . . if we can use lesser cuts from the animals we slaughter to eat (those that actually eat the poor things) then we can go the same way with vegetables as well!

    Frankly if my box contained nothing but leeks I'd be happy with that - very happy! there are of course some things I'd rather not eat (most of 'em have funny names) but bottom line if you get sent weird stuff make soup - spicey soup, it will keep you going until something else comes along! As the pig eater often says use everything but the squeal of the animal - likewise with the vegetable.

    We can do this ~ the Walrus

    0 Reply

    Guy Singh-Watson

    Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

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