Guy’s news: Too early for a lettuce from Provence?

When ferreting around in our barns for my supper, the only lettuce I could find was from a grower in Provence; it looked and tasted lovely but a mere week after the equinox with the sun shining seems too early for imports. Not so many years ago, when box contents were more haphazard, we would grow lettuce until November; they didn’t taste great as light levels dropped, were often hit by aphids or wiped out by an early frost, but it seemed worth the punt.

When ferreting around in our barns for my supper, the only lettuce I could find was from a grower in Provence; it looked and tasted lovely but a mere week after the equinox with the sun shining seems too early for imports. Not so many years ago, when box contents were more haphazard, we would grow lettuce until November; they didn’t taste great as light levels dropped, were often hit by aphids or wiped out by an early frost, but it seemed worth the punt. I do wonder if we are getting too risk-averse in our quest for quality and reliability, but then I am a chancer by nature; not always the best type to organise things.

The “shoulders” of a season, when you push into sub-optimal conditions for a crop, are always risky and there is a strong environmental argument for only growing a crop where risk of failure is low, even if that does mean you need a truck journey once it’s ready. From our study with Exeter University there is no doubt that a Spanish tomato or pepper grown without heat has a far lower
carbon footprint than one grown in the UK under heated glass. Could the same be true of an October lettuce? I doubt it, but we haven’t done the sums and probably should. Meanwhile we will have cos and batavia lettuce from the Vendée soon; about a third of the road miles distant compared to Provence.

Even with the lettuce, the veg in your boxes right now will be about 90% UK grown (by weight). Were we to include our French farm, which is actually fewer road miles than from the Fens to Devon, it would be 95%. That will fall through the winter as crops finish to 50% in April, before quickly climbing back to 90% in early June as our new season crops start. Balancing the demands of avoiding waste, maintaining quality and minimising the carbon footprint of all our produce remains at the heart of what we do, so on reflection that tasty Provence lettuce represents the right priorities. If that’s not enough for the committed localists among you, we now have the 100% UK box too.

New delicious. magazine recipe boxes Roast Squash & Butterbean Mash anyone? Food editor Rebecca Woollard has put together a glorious set of veggie recipes for our latest collaboration. Visit riverford.co.uk/recipebox.

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