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Ethical business

Guy’s news: Planning & long-term relationships

Leafing through the glossy pages of seed catalogues can be a dangerous pastime during short, cold winter days. We know our carrots will be more wrinkled and there will be few onions with such flawless skin, but in a warm kitchen, disbelief can be suspended and dangerous dreams of vegetable perfection can take root. Thankfully, the days when a year’s cropping was based on my emotional state when ordering the seeds are long past; today planning is rational and meticulous. The ideal contents of every veg box from May ‘18 to April ‘19 were decided by September ‘17; by November we’d agreed which fellow farmers will grow what and agreed prices, leaving January to order seeds and plants and plan our own farm cropping. It can be two years before some crops end up in your boxes; last minute adjustments may be needed as crops fail or out-yield, or come early or late, but for the most part it works. Waste is minimal, and (correct me if I am wrong) the variety and balance in your boxes is infinitely better than in the dark ages of my whims.

My greatest pride in Riverford stems from breaking the industry norms of short-term, competitive relationships and almost ritualistic abuse of growers by supermarket and wholesaler buyers who have little knowledge (and even less interest) in flavour or the realities of farming. The waste, brutality and frustration I experienced on the wrong side of those negotiations made me determined to find a better way of working with our own growers. There is usually more to be gained by cooperation and long-term, mutually beneficial relationships than brutal competition for short-term contracts; it all depends on building and valuing mutual trust. We also have a preference for smaller family farms with a heartfelt commitment to organic farming, over large, commercially-motivated growers who keep a foot in both organic and conventional camps and move whichever way the wind blows. Maintaining relationships with growers, whether in Devon, Yorkshire, Spain or Togo, often over 10 or even 20 years, is not always the cheapest way of buying, but it does produce the best veg. Respect for humanity and the environment are included free.

Read about our recent trip to visit our Spanish growers here.

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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.  

    Can business be a force for good?

    Guy Singh-Watson on why he chose employee ownership to protect the future of Riverford.

    Watch