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Guy’s news: Enlightenment in the cabbages

One of the things I love about being an organic grower is the constant challenge. The ever-receding horizon of perfect knowledge means that I will be learning to the end. After 30 years, assumptions are still regularly confounded in the field; in this case, why the cabbages won’t grow. Pre-enlightenment, our inability to explain natural phenomenon led to mysticism; I don’t rule out that the crop is stunted due to the the phase of the moon when it was planted, or that I failed to bury a corn dolly last autumn or to regularly prostrate myself before the appropriate deity, or didn’t apply activated carbon or mineral dust. Whatever the reason, our pointed cabbages do seem to have lost their spirit; like a whippet with its tail between its legs they seem nervous, unable to break out of themselves and get on with photosynthesising, growing and being eaten by you. As I stand among them, I am still searching for a more prosaic, scientifically conventional explanation. They have had the muck, the sun, the warmth and the water. The soil is not compacted and the weeds and pests are under control, so their purple leaves and pinched appearance remain a mystery.

After work and a few beers, I am still deliberating with the farm team. The consensus is that it’s down to a mixture of things, all of a post-enlightenment nature. Marco leads on stress brought on by wildly fluctuating temperatures; Scott on leaching of nutrients by February’s rains, plus too long spent in the seed trays waiting for a break in the weather to allow planting; Didier thinks they have been too dry. We’ve sent some leaves off for analysis but don’t expect anything conclusive, just another piece in the ever-evolving jigsaw. My enduring faith is that every year we will understand more and become better farmers and custodians of the land as a result. Conventional farmers might reach for a dose of ammonium nitrate to attempt to alleviate the immediate symptoms, but this contributes little to understanding the complex relationship of plant, soil, weather and just possibly the cosmos. There is no harm in accepting imperfect knowledge and occasional inexplicable failure; the enforced humility does us good. Though that sounds like something from The Pilgrim’s Progress, it actually reflects a healthy post-enlightenment acceptance that there is more to learn.


    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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