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An early season for leafy veg

I made my first wild garlic omelette in January, and subjected the family to wild garlic and hazelnut pesto last week; normally pleasures reserved for March and April.

A few confused plants are even sending up flowerheads already. Wild garlic, foraged from the woods around our Devon farm, will be available to order from early March. If we have a good season, it will appear in the boxes into April, before the plants are shaded out by the trees coming into leaf overhead. 

In our fields, the warm winter has resulted in leafy crops running an average of five weeks ahead of schedule. Leeks due in January were pulled in November; January King cabbages were cut in October; Hungry Gap kale planned for April is being picked in February. We have managed to use the crops that came early without any waste – but this does mean that there will be a few deficits until the spring crops start (April on our farm in France, and mid-May in Devon).

Hannah, our agronomist, who walks the crops each week to estimate availability, predicts that we will be short by 12,000 portions a week over the next ten weeks. Much depends on a notoriously fickle and weather-susceptible crop: purple sprouting broccoli. Most of our other crops are looking great, but there were seed shortages last summer, meaning that we were not always able to grow our preferred, more robust varieties.

Some could be wiped out if we get persistent rain, frosts, or both (frost that would be harmless on a dry crop is much more damaging on wet heads and waterlogged ground). But given a reasonably dry, mild spring, high yields may make up for the crops we’ve had to harvest early.

Far worse off than us are our growers in Spain, who have suffered catastrophic damage from a hailstorm; within an hour, it devastated many field crops, and collapsed greenhouses under the weight of the stones. We are supporting the growers as much as possible, and taking whatever crops they still have to offer.

The unfortunate truth is, there is always a farmer somewhere desperate to sell their produce; so, one way or another, our veg boxes will be full. More positively, planting is well underway on our farm in the French Vendée, with the first lettuces planted under mini tunnels looking like they will be ready in five or six weeks. They herald the arrival of a new vegetable year, and, incidentally, my 33rd year of veg growing.



    1 Year 7 Months

    Maybe I’m a sucker or possibly soft, but I love having the 100% UK veg box - the organic element is a bonus. But reading this, should I be less fussed, support the cooperative regardless of origin? Happy to use whatever is in season, might just need some help with suggestions for what to do with them - my creativity when it comes to food is not well known, but keen to try anything once and grateful for any pointers (love the guides for each veggie in the box).

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    1 Year 7 Months

    Saw first leaves on hawthorn today - seems a bit early. I was reading an article yesterday that predicts life in 2050 where countries don't export any food as they need it themselves so I think we may have problems.

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    1 Year 6 Months

    I made some fish cakes with wild garlic I picked over the weekend - absolutely divine! It's growing abundantly across Cornwall now.

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    1 Year 6 Months

    Wonderful! Feels like just the right thing to eat at this time of year too - full of vitality

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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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