Cream of the crop

River­ford is well known in the UK for bring­ing fresh or­ganic fruit and veg­eta­bles to your door, but did you know it has a farm in Vendée to meet de­mand? Sue Bradley talks to founder Guy Wat­son and the ex­pat farm­ers who work there

Living France - - Contents -

How River­ford Or­gan­ics founder Guy Wat­son started farm­ing in Vendée to meet de­mand in the UK

Fill­ing ‘the hun­gry gap’ is a chal­lenge for Bri­tish veg­etable grow­ers and was once a peren­nial headache for Guy Wat­son, founder of River­ford Or­ganic Farm­ers. He knew all but a tiny ‘hard core’ of cus­tomers didn’t want to be re­stricted to cab­bage, parsnips and sprout­ing pota­toes in their veg boxes be­tween April and June, with most look­ing for let­tuce and other less hardy crops. Nev­er­the­less he was re­luc­tant to ex­tend the ‘shoul­ders’ of the Bri­tish grow­ing sea­son us­ing heated glasshouses, only to end up with less tasty pro­duce. Nor did he want to im­port veg­eta­bles hun­dreds of miles from Italy or Spain, and clos­ing be­tween March and July wasn’t an op­tion. His so­lu­tion was to pur­chase Le Bouti­nard, a 300-acre for­mer dairy farm in Vendée, a de­part­ment of the Pays-de-laLoire re­gion in west cen­tral France, not far from the At­lantic Ocean.

Set­ting up an or­ganic veg­etable-grow­ing op­er­a­tion here al­lowed Guy to take ad­van­tage of the marginally warmer mar­itime cli­mate and, most im­por­tantly, bet­ter light lev­els and free-drain­ing sandy soil, in or­der to ex­tend the grow­ing sea­son. And, at 250 miles door to door, the French farm is rea­son­ably close to River­ford’s Devon base.

“I started look­ing at a cli­matic map of Europe and de­cided this area along the west coast of France, a few miles north of La Rochelle and south of Nantes, would give us veg­eta­bles six weeks ear­lier,” says Guy, who now splits his time be­tween Devon and Vendée, which is also close to the home of his wife Geetie Singh’s fa­ther.

“The weather starts warm­ing in Fe­bru­ary and things grow faster and are health­ier,” he says.

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