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News from the farm   |   Climate change   |   Renewable energy

Whose future? Their future.

On Black Friday, my ten-year-old stepdaughter Mabel, a formidable eco-warrior, bullied me into taking her on the Exeter school climate strike. Some thousand students marched to chants of “What do we want?”, “Climate justice!”, “When do we want it?”, “Now!” A generation found its voice as the megaphone was passed from university students, to teenagers, to primary school children.

Humbled by the bright young faces, and the contrast between their irrepressible hope and the bleak future we are leaving them, I found myself holding back tears. 

As we passed a primary school, children inside pushed up to the railings to see what the noise was; 20 marchers broke off and rushed up the bank to feed leaflets into their eagerly waiting hands. We are the custodians of their planet, and we are failing shamefully. The tears came rolling down.

So, what is Riverford going to do? We have just completed the second largest rooftop solar panel installation in the South West, which will generate up to 25 per cent of our electricity; we are investing heavily in electric vehicles (70 per cent of our vans by 2023); we are redesigning our packaging, to make fruit and veg 100 per cent plastic free by December 2020.

Solar panels at Riverford
Riverford's new rooftop solar installation can generate up to 25 per cent of the site's energy.

Much more than many businesses are doing, but given the gravity and urgency of the situation, we could do more. We have started an internal debate, hoping to reach an agreement on the degree to which we are willing or able to risk our profits in pursuit of bigger changes – and perhaps more significantly, how much we can restrict your choices without losing customers to retailers who offer no such limits.

Our prices will increase by an average of two per cent in January. We have had a good year, so might have been able to hold prices steady a bit longer by shelving some of the projects above – but we think many people choose to shop with us not only for great food, but for a more hopeful future.

You might reasonably ask: are you getting value for money? The best assurance I can offer is that we are very good at what we do; it could not be done, with the same ethics, for any less. Beyond paying our taxes and investing in the business, the money we make only leaves in two ways: as a profit share to co-owners (£719 each last year); or as a dividend on my remaining 26 per cent share, which goes into a fund for projects that reduce our environmental impact.



    1 Year 10 Months

    What an inspiring article.. It's great to hear that Riverford is setting such a good example by producing electricity, replacing plastic and buying electric vehicles. We have solar panels and use any surplus power we generate to heat our water and charge our hybrid car. If all businesses and individuals make small changes in 2020, imagine the overall impact on the environment. It's worth paying a little extra when we're able to, to help turn the tide of climate change so that our grandchildren have as good a world as we were fortunate to inherit.

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    1 Year 10 Months

    In respecty of electric vehicles it occurs to me that electric power is ideal for farm tractors and the like
    since it delivers maximum tractive effort at low speed. The problem is how long it would keep going
    during a long day in the summer. The answer may be battery modules that can be replaced easily and quickly.

    1 Reply

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    Comments Editor

    1 Year 10 Months

    A really interesting point - they are now becoming more widely commercially available but you are right they do have a fairly short battery duration so are not currently practical for many farms - however with the pace of development moving faster hopefully these issues will be sorted so they can be widely used in the near future.

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    anthony roper

    1 Year 10 Months

    As a friend said recently, we are all hypocrites, since we are not perfect and could do better. But I try. Whenever I spend money, and I realise i'm fortunate in that I can, I try to think do I need the item I'm thinking of purchasing. The answer is generally no. When making a decision about food I will try most of the time to think about things such as packaging, food miles, organics, shopping away from supermarkets etc. As the film says we need to pay 'the true cost', as far as possible.

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    1 Year 9 Months

    We are with you all the way Guy. A great pity that the people running this country appear to be on planet zog when it comes to agriculture, they just don't get it!

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    1 Year 9 Months

    Hhmmm, these changes are probably a helpful part of adapting to climate change and trying to minimize its impact.
    But, as a producer, I am missing addressing farming based solutions like carbon storage in soil, no-tillage systems, creating employment by producing more food bio-intensively on existing arable land, in order to integrate different systems and build soil, with all the associated benefits. Turning at least one farm into a regenerative agriculture model and then spread the learning across your farm partnerships would be powerful.

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    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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    The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

    Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.