We talk to Riverford founder Guy Watson
20-10-2011 | Riverford is one of the biggest names in UK organics, delivering nearly 50,000 boxes full of organic fruit, veg and meat every week come rain or shine. We talk to founder Guy Watson about his love for local, seasonal produce, and how good cooking is key to enjoying it at its best.
Food for thought
"It all starts with the cooks. You can grow and produce what you like, but if people don’t want to buy it, you’re dead in the water. Historically people’s attitude to food has been passed down the generations as a cultural activity, largely by their parents. Over the last two generations we’ve seen that eroded to a point where some parents have no idea how to cook. It’s going to be very difficult to change it, but there are some very encouraging signs: people are taking much more interest in where their food comes from and how it’s produced, and developing their skills as cooks themselves.
"If you really want food to be good from an environmental perspective, that does mean eating with the seasons. But I still think people are much more inclined to eat aubergines and peppers than cabbage, kale and cauliflowers. You can eat a 90% UK grown diet and never be bored, but you have to be a pretty damned good cook.
"It all starts with the cooks. You can grow and produce what you like, but if people don’t want to buy it, you’re dead in the water"
"Whenever I get to a friends house I’m afraid to say I do a bit of market research and take a look in their fridge. People say what they want is locally sourced, seasonal produce, but you tend to find a lot in there that’s not, especially in the winter. Often they don’t even know where it’s come from – they’re not aware of the environmental cost of producing a tomato or pepper in January. It’s a kind of unconscious hypocrisy.
"We have made some compromises, but made them knowingly. If we didn’t import some produce during the winter, I don’t think I’d be in business today. Riverford is here to make the world a better place and you don’t do that by going out of business.
"Most box schemes have had a pretty hard time over the last three or four years. A lot have gone by the wayside, and we need to be looking around at doing new things. The restaurant we have down on the farm continues to be very successful, we’ve published a couple of cookery books which are going well, and are running lots of new cooking initiatives. This week we’ve got fifteen school leavers doing a cookery course and spending a bit of time working on the farm.
"Getting more involved in helping people cook and encouraging them to cook will be a major theme for us over next few years. You’ve got to make cooking fun really, and there’s no doubt that proximity and knowledge of ingredients and where they come from helps – it does seem to get people fired up, having that confidence in your ingredients and knowing what to do with them."
Guy Watson CV:
Guy Watson started growing organic vegetables in 1986 on his family farm in Devon and set up the vegbox scheme in 1993, delivering to 20 local friends and families. As demand grew, the challenge was to find a way of embracing it while sticking to what the vegbox scheme was all about – local growing and employment and a friendly, personal service. The solution was to find other farmers who shared their ethos. There are now five Riverford farms, all growing, packing and delivering vegboxes. Between the five sister farms Riverford now covers most of England and South Wales, delivering around 47,000 vegboxes each week.
photo David White text Will Ferguson