My father gave me a pig for my eighth birthday. He didn’t believe in pocket money; the idea was that the pig would be the first of many and an introduction to farming and business. My pig faithfully produced thirteen healthy piglets twice a year but I didn’t share my father’s passion for pig-keeping (for forty years, as so many farmers moved towards factory farming, his enthusiasm was trying to develop an ethically acceptable way of keeping them), so I moved onto sheep, then milking cows before finding my vocation with vegetables.
That cabbage epiphany came nearly twenty five years ago and to this day, though not a vegetarian, my enthusiasm remains for vegetables: in the field, in the kitchen and on the plate. Meanwhile my brother Ben used those pigs to teach himself charcuterie and set up a farm shop in our garage, which thirty years later has developed into three shops and the meat boxes that we offer alongside the vegetables. Our siblings Oliver and Louise developed the cows and the dairy and raise some of the bull calves for beef. Our soils at Wash Farm in Devon are not inherently very fertile and we would really struggle to grow veg without the manure from the cows. On top of that, at least a third of the farm is too steep, or the soil too thin, to be suitable for anything other than grazing livestock.
We have many vegetarian customers and get the occasional letter questioning our position on meat, so the point of these ramblings is to give an agricultural and historical perspective to Riverford and meat. As a nation we undoubtedly eat more meat than is good for our health or the environment. Indeed, if we are to have any chance of feeding our burgeoning population whilst retaining any balance and beauty on our planet we must radically reduce our collective appetite for meat, dairy and poultry. So our position is to encourage the meat eaters among us to eat less and better. This means feeding sheep and cows their natural diet (ie. grass and clover, not grain), hanging meat properly and always using the whole carcass to best effect. Think thrifty pies, hashes and making stock with every last scrap. If we are going to eat meat, we should be smarter about it.