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Environment & ethics

Guy’s news: Risk, consistent blandness & pineapples

Two weeks in Sri Lanka feasting morning, noon and night on the best food I have ever eaten has left me craving coconut, jackfruit, lime and curry leaf, but not their pineapples. Fresh aromatic leaves, fruit, vegetables and spices with minimal meat, a little dried fish and a marked absence of processed ingredients, prepared in the simplest of kitchens with honesty and confidence was available on every street, village and market.

Within hours of returning home I was on the farm in search of greenery to detox from my airline food; there was not much to be had on account of the cold and I found myself embroiled in a debate about pineapples instead. Grown in Togo, ours were better than any I had eaten on holiday but tragically the sweetest and most juicy were being rejected. One in four had small areas of internal browning as they reached their peak of sweetness and, after a rash of complaints, we were playing safe; hopefully most will go to food charities or be eaten by staff rather than by the cows. The tragedy of such waste is compounded by memories of visiting the growers and witnessing the human effort that went into nurturing the fruit; most have been grown using only mattocks and carried a kilometre or more from small remote fields to the nearest road, in the first stage of their long and tortuous journey to your door. Added frustration comes from knowing that those growers would view a such light browning as little more than a sign of ripeness.

If we accept that “the customer is always right” and assess satisfaction by measuring complaints we will, paradoxically, manage ourselves into a situation where we sell consistent but mildly disappointing fruit while accepting ludicrous waste; just like most supermarkets. We must be brave enough to accept occasional complaints and I would ask you, our customers, not to give up on us at the first over-ripe piece of fruit. We must both trust, forgive and take a little risk, in order to avoid a life of predictable blandness.

Outside the ground is hard as iron and snow is falling on snow. Our intrepid drivers will do their best but, in anticipation of logistical carnage, I apologise to those whose boxes arrived late or not at all.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, 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 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an inspirational, passionate, opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers 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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