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Guy's news: an ode to our once omnivorous swine

When I was a school boy, my father’s annual act of civic responsibility was to run the ‘Bowling for the Pig’ stand at the school fête; the winner got a real live weaner (piglet) to take home and fatten up. Food rationing, having ended just ten years earlier, was still fresh in many memories so in a rural area, the idea of fattening a pig in your garden using kitchen waste wasn’t so weird.

Pigs have been valued around the globe for centuries for their ability to eat just about anything, and thereby turn waste into food. Our pigs were fed whey mixed with home grown barley, ground in our own mill. Meanwhile waste from our unappetising school lunches was collected by the swill man (never looked like a glamorous career option), and cooked down to feed to pigs, as was the case across the country. As rationing ended in 1954, chickens and pigs were the first to succumb to the progression to factory farming. Unable and unwilling to keep up, we sold our last pigs in the ‘90s as my father, a lifelong pig enthusiast, retired and the next generation specialised in dairy and vegetables.

60 years on, despite the BBC’s Good Life and the revival of ‘make do and mend’, if I arrived with a weaner at a fête today I’d probably be arrested or committed. Both conventional and organic pigs are fed on barley or wheat mixed with soya; animals that once ate waste are competing for food with the world’s poor, and contributing to deforestation and loss of wildlife as land is used to grow soya instead. Using food waste to feed pigs has been banned since the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001, as untreated swill is widely considered to be the source of the epidemic. Yet with careful management, a return to recycling food waste in this way (as championed by campaigners The Pig Idea) would reduce our reliance on imported soya and so lessen the environmental devastation that comes with it. Meanwhile I’m seriously considering introducing a small herd of hardy pigs bred in our woods and fattened on our veg waste. Pa spent 50 years losing money by keeping pigs, but it never crushed his enthusiasm, just the bank balance. I’m willing to have my own run at it.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, 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 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers 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. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

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