THINK­ING OUT­SIDE THE VEG BOX

River­ford Or­gan­ics founder Guy Singh-wat­son has had plenty to say over the past 25 years, as a new book re­veals

Devon Life - - Food & Drink -

IF you’ve ever or­dered a veg box from Devon’s River­ford Or­gan­ics you’ll know that as well as the fresh pro­duce (some with the Devon earth still cling­ing to it) each de­liv­ery comes with a news­let­ter penned by founder Guy Singh-wat­son.

For the past 25 years Guy has writ­ten these 380-word es­says ev­ery week – that’s around 1300 in all – cov­er­ing his thoughts on a wide range of top­ics: or­ganic farm­ing, ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied crops, super­mar­kets (‘like deal­ing with the Mafia’), su­per­mar­ket buy­ers (‘the abuse that spews from a dis­at­is­fied su­per­mar­ket buyer makes Cruella de Vil seem like the Dalai Lama’), the weather (droughts, floods, storms), bankers and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, slugs, Brexit, food waste, horsegate and the plea­sures of ploughing to name but a few. Now a se­lec­tion of these mis­sives have been pub­lished as a book: veg­eta­bles, soil & hope. Ideal for dip­ping into, the con­tents are in turn funny, opin­ion­ated, an­gry, con­tem­pla­tive, hope­ful and oc­ca­sion­ally jaw drop­ping (see Test­ing Car­rots, be­low). Here are some ex­tracts.

PICK­ING LEEKS

(Nov 2016) We make sure our har­vest­ing staff have good wet-weather gear, but a day in the driv­ing rain pulling leeks must rank along­side fish­ing and coal min­ing as one of the tough­est jobs on the planet…. The in­di­vid­u­als who stick at it year af­ter year of­ten ac­quire a Zen-like calm and say that even on the grimmest day they pre­fer be­ing out­side to work­ing in the barns or of­fice. I reckon it is ge­netic.

BUY­ING A DUCK

(May 2003) How to find a flock of ducks! I tried the paper. I tried the free ads. I even tried the in­ter­net. It is rather re­as­sur­ing to have dis­cov­ered that, in the end, the best place to buy a duck is in the pub. I should say to be promised a duck be­cause, like so much pub talk, it may come to noth­ing.

A BREXIT CHAL­LENGE

(Oc­to­ber 2017) Field work is un­be­liev­ably tough for those who have not ex­pe­ri­enced it. Hours in the gym will not pre­pare you for the en­durance re­quired. I used to do 60 hours a week, but I couldn’t hack it now. While the com­monly heard farm­ers’ bleat that ‘Brits just don’t want the work’ is largely true, they should spend more time ask­ing them­selves why and what they could do to make the jobs more at­trac­tive. I for one will not be lob­by­ing the gov­ern­ment for agri­cul­ture to be a ‘spe­cial case’. I al­most rel­ish the chal­lenge of at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing staff in a post-brexit UK. It will force us to do things we prob­a­bly should be do­ing any­way.

TEST­ING CAR­ROTS

(Oc­to­ber 2004) Ian Sa­muel, our co-op’s car­rot spe­cial­ist, was re­cently at a car­rot-va­ri­ety trial with a bunch of farm­ers and found he was the only one tast­ing car­rots. All the other farm­ers were try­ing to break them on their wellies.

I am gen­er­ally a glass-halfempty man and as a re­sult, a bit of a mis­er­able bug­ger.

It’s the cost of my con­stant quest to find some­thing that is wrong and think how it could be done bet­ter.

This morn­ing, hav­ing done a few hours in the fields, I have re­jected the hot of­fice in favour of a seat on the pon­toon, bal­anc­ing a lap­top, with my feet dan­gling in the ir­ri­ga­tion reser­voir.

I could worry about the fact that my toes only just touch the wa­ter; last week it was up to my calves.

Should this won­der­ful weather con­tinue we will be div­ing into mud by Au­gust.

Un­til then we are able to ir­ri­gate, but for many of our grow­ers the veg fits in around cows and sheep and they have not in­vested the thou­sand pounds an acre it costs in ponds, pipes and pumps.

I could worry about the po­ten­tial feud be­tween our Pol­ish work­ers (sus­pected of eat­ing the carp in the lake) and the English coarse fish­ing en­thu­si­asts who like to catch them af­ter work, stroke them and put them back.

I could even worry about drop­ping my lap­top in the wa­ter.

But as I look out over the wa­ter, watch­ing the swal­lows dip for a ca­sual drink (or is it to feed on lar­vae?) and wit­ness­ing the drag­on­flies cop­u­lat­ing in flight, with the dog rose (my favourite flower) ram­bling over the hedges in full bloom, it is hard not to see that glass as al­most full. We have had a great start to the year and I am al­most as con­tent as the wood pi­geon coo­ing be­hind me. There you go; it’s a myth: farm­ers don’t al­ways moan and that was the quick­est news­let­ter I have ever writ­ten.

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