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Guy's new: small is beautiful

One of the worst things about the supermarket dominated food supply system is the way it has undermined this country’s long established horticultural grower base.

On a recent trip to Moss Side to see potential partners or growers for our network of farms, I was struck by the general air of despair in an area that, not so long ago, was thriving on providing excellent produce for nearby Manchester. It seems to be a similar story in Evesham and Kent.

Many smaller growers have been beaten into submission by the demands of the supermarkets’ centralised supply chain and all the prescriptive stuff that goes with it.

I admit that I had no idea the extent of what I was getting into when harvesting my first vegetables onto a wheelbarrow in 1986 or even when delivering the first boxes from a beaten up transit in 1993.

Though I am very proud that so many people across the country now enjoy our boxes and that our co-op members have a secure market for their produce, I never wanted to run a huge company and remain sceptical of the ongoing benefits of scale.

So, we are in the process of joining forces with farmers in other parts of the UK. The idea is to retain the social, environmental and economic benefits of small, local businesses, so retaining autonomy and regional character, while sharing the benefits of accumulated knowledge – be it the best carrot variety, how to control weeds in rhubarb or what to put in a box in February.

If our sister farms continue to grow at the present rate we will divide them to reduce food miles further and keep them at a personal size. The only hard and fast rule for our partnership of farms is that our decisions will be made as locally and with as few rules as possible, even if this does result in a little anarchy.

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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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