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
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.
(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.
(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.