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'Never known them so happy'

We farmers are not known for our collective joy, but this is how Hannah, our agronomist, describes the growers and pickers she meets while walking the fields to work out what will be available for next week’s boxes.

Most farmers are used to isolation, so that has been little hardship, and the weather has been extraordinarily kind to those of us allowed outdoors. Spring barley, grass seeds, and now, most of the maize, were all sown in good conditions and followed by just enough rain to ensure strong and even germination. After a long, wet winter, which felt malevolent at times, my faith in the benevolence of nature is returning.

With coronavirus on top of Brexit, finding enough pickers could have been a problem, but Vicky, who looks after our 40 new recruits, describes them as “very good, including the homegrown ones” – many of whom, in kinder circumstances, would rather be somewhere else and would probably be better paid for it. We are not expecting many to return next year, but we are glad to have them, and there are signs that some of them may even be enjoying their unexpected career swerve.

Last week we picked our first Little Gem lettuce and pak choi, to follow on as the salads on our French farm finish. The early baby salad leaves (mizuna, komatsuna and mustard) are looking great and, due to some skilful management, mercifully weed free, allowing harvest rates much higher than we expect in these early crops.

Last night as I headed in for supper, Milan said he would carry on making beds for the pumpkins (due to arrive tomorrow) until the rain came. By midnight it was drizzling as his tractor lights swept across the valley, but he carried on till dawn, and finished the field as the heavy rain started.

After grabbing a few hours’ sleep, he was already back out by the time I emerged well rested and breakfasted – if full of guilt. My wife said I should be ashamed; he said it was his choice. He has a love (some might say obsession) for his work which I remember from my younger days sleeping by the irrigation pump. Should he return to Bulgaria, finding anyone, UK national or not, to match his skills, dedication, judgement and passion will be near impossible; I’m not sure they are being made any more.

This week, visit livelifeontheveg.riverford.co.uk for tips on using up gluts – from cooking up a pile of onions, to baking courgette, lemon and poppy seed cake. Plus, ideas for mushrooms and pak choi, how to make your own nut butters, and a new veg-packed feast from Niki at Rebel Recipes.

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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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