The contents of our winter veg boxes were planned, seeds bought, and land allocated over a year ago, in the depths of the Covid lockdowns, when sales were booming.
Futurologists suggested that the changes in our behaviour (living a simpler life, staying at home baking our own sourdough) were here to stay. They were wrong; kitchen behaviour has reverted to pre-Covid patterns, as we all exercise our liberty, eat out, plan less, and spend more time away from home. In retrospect, it was naïve to expect anything else.
Our sales are about 20 per cent down on the predictions made in those extraordinary times. Combined with a mild autumn, this has left us buried under a tsunami of the most perfect, bountiful Savoy cabbages, cauliflowers, kale, and leeks, with not enough cooks to eat them.
The summer drought slowed crops down and delayed planting, but bacteria and fungi continued to break down organic matter and accumulate nutrients in the soil. When the rain finally came, it was accompanied by the mildest autumn I can remember, and good light levels; fed by that surfeit of nutrients, crops have grown at extraordinary rates, catching up on lost time then rushing ahead. Compounded by the lower-than-expected sales, we have a substantial glut on our hands.
Within the norms of a brutal, wasteful market, this would be the grower’s problem and they would suffer the loss – but after years of being ruthlessly screwed by supermarket buyers myself, I am determined that Riverford will do better.
Unique in our industry, our Supplier Charter (read it here) states: “We will honour the price and volume agreed when a programme is offered, regardless of what happens subsequently.” We will keep that promise – partly because promises matter, and partly because we have been working with many of these growers for 20 years, and want them to be here for another 20.
Riverford will take much of the hit, but I am also pleading for a little tolerance from our customers; they will find their boxes fuller, greener, and leafier, with fewer of the imported peppers, aubergines and tomatoes that you might appreciate. I am hoping they will sacrifice some choice to help us do the honourable thing; together, we might even grow and eat our way to a kinder, more sustainable world.
Even better, if you know anyone else who might enjoy a leafy organic veg box (and a tree planted in your name, plus £15 credit each), send them our way at riverford.co.uk/refer.