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Respite, planning & ostriches

frozen cabbages

A thin layer of ice formed this morning on the rising waters of my newly built irrigation reservoir, and hung around all day; a week of frost and northerly winds has brought an abrupt end to two months of sun, warmth and unexpectedly luxuriant autumn growth. The plunging temperatures give our veg box planners relief from the tidal wave of greenery that has been coming off our fields and competing for a place in your kitchens over the last two months. Cauliflower heads that would have matured in a week will now take four to fill out; firm cabbages will stand for a month without splitting, and kales will hold until needed, while leeks plod on steadily, gaining weight regardless.

It has been a wonderful autumn to work outside, with good light and low humidity helping most crops go into winter strong and relatively disease free. There are still lots of potatoes in the ground; harvest has been delayed by their reluctance to set the firm skins that will protect them during harvest and help them store through the winter, so we must hope for an unusually dry November. Green manures are sown and have grown vigorously, soaking up the soluble nutrients that would be susceptible to loss by leaching from winter rain. Our last task in preparation for winter is to rip up any tractor ruts that have damaged the soil structure and reduced percolation rates (the speed water enters and moves down through the soil), to prevent run off and the risk of soil loss.

No sooner have we finished than it is time to plan for next year. Idealised contents of your boxes have been planned through to May 2020; it never works out perfectly, but (since I stopped doing it) reality comes remarkably close to the spreadsheet. Seeds must be ordered, rotations planned, manure and compost stockpiled and staff hired. Will we be able to get our crops back from my farm in the Vendée, or from Pepe and Paco in Spain? Will Milan be here to drive the tractor? Can we trust that sanity, in some form, will prevail over vitriol, political egotism and collective madness? Despite the all-pervasive uncertainty, we are trying to mitigate risk with our Brexit plan – but with no firm ground to stand on, my leadership has crumpled. I can only sulk and bury my head like a (mythical) ostrich. Please someone tell me when it’s over.

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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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