We are settling into the new reality, with gratitude that we still have a business and can be of some use. Social distancing is relatively easy in the fields, but more challenging in the barns. It is especially sad to see Riverford co-owners spaced apart, unable to sit and eat together, during breaks – but we are the lucky ones, still with work to do.
Numerous messages of appreciation and support for our drivers, stuck to windows and boxes, have been greatly appreciated. We ask that customers continue to leave our boxes out in advance and observe distancing on the doorstep.
The sun has emerged with a forgotten force, drying out fields that have been sodden since September. My vulnerable neighbour is self-isolating in his tractor cab while ripping out failed winter wheat to sow spring barley. On our side of the hedge, we have spread muck and ploughed the better-drained fields, to sow peas and plant pak choi, lettuce and cabbages.
Last season’s leeks, cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli and kales are rushing to maturity under the sun, enjoying a last flush of growth before running to seed. All will be gone within a month, as we enter the Hungry Gap (after UK winter crops have finished) and wait for spring’s crops to emerge. Let’s hope the borders stay open, truck drivers stay healthy, and there are enough pickers in France, Spain and Italy to get us through the Gap.
In an attempt to deliver as much as possible with depleted resources, we have reverted to a simpler offer, focusing mainly on fruit and veg boxes; after almost 30 years of ever-growing choice and complexity in our range, it feels like stepping back in time. Perhaps my most reliable pleasure is to walk home across the fields, picking what is in season to cook for loved ones.
What we do has been shaped by the desire to share the seasonal bounty of our fields, augmented by stories and recipes, with as many people – but with as little fuss and waste – as possible. But there is no doubt that the fuss has grown over the years. Did we try too hard to please too many? I sometimes think so. If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it may be that we learn to value more what is close – be that vegetables or people.
As so many of you are cooking from a veg box for the first time, we plan to offer many more recipes and tips to help you rise to the challenge. Look out for this next week; and in the meanwhile, if you're a customer, you might consider joining our lively Facebook community ‘Riverford Tribe’, for lots of ideas and support from fellow customers.