I’ve been getting an organic box from Riverford Organic for a few years now. I love the ritual of getting an organic box each week, and aside from a few hiccups, I’ve always been impressed with the quality of their produce, especially the young carrots that seem to be sweeter and more flavoursome than that stuff you buy in a bag at the supermarket.
I also love the surprises: recently they’ve been sending “broad bean tops” (the leafy bits of the broad bean plant that are removed to encourage growing). What a find – they’re like a slightly bitter, firmer spinach, and I loved putting them to use in omelets. Flavour aside, the broad bean tops are a sign that Riverford are trying to make use of the whole plant, even the stuff that’s normally discarded. Waste not, want not, right?
Earlier this summer I joined my friend and colleague Jo from The Food Travel Company on her company’s tour of South West England. The trip took in, amongst other things, a visit to Riverford Farm and lunch in their Field Kitchen restaurant in Devon.
I was a little worried – you know how sometimes you love something and then you go see where it comes from and are totally disappointed. Would I feel the same way about Riverford after seeing the scale and style of their operations?
The day began with lunch in the Field Kitchen, which has an interesting way of serving a meal: everything’s communal. People share tables and are presented with big platters of food to pass around.
The food was amazing, and a vegetarian’s delight: carrots with mustard and honey; spring greens with red onions and raisins; roasted beetroot with pistachio, orange and feta; new potatoes with rosemary, fresh garlic and lemon; and my favourite: a lusciously fresh green salad with broad beans, asparagus and grilled courgettes.
(For the record, it was a meat-lover’s paradise too, with roasted lamb, butter beans and griddled leaks – I pretty sure there was a healthy amount of drooling involved from my omnivorous companions.)
After lunch, there were huge amounts of food left over, and I got a little scared: surely they wouldn’t throw it all away? Indeed, I’m told that many of the leftovers go to the staff, or to customers like me who aren’t too shy to ask to take some away (it was a shame that the summer pavlova didn’t travel well).
After lunch I met Riverford’s founder Guy Watson who is probably the most suave farmer you will ever meet. So suave, in fact, that I couldn’t resist copying his sweater mojo. In fact, everyone at Riverford seemed to be super-stylish, as if all of London’s food-and-farm-loving hipsters descended onto one place and started a business. But they’re not too cool for friendly hellos, and in fact everyone there, including Guy, were eager to talk about what they were up to at Riverford. I especially enjoyed talking with Guy about our mutual appreciation of broad bean tops (he likes them very lightly steamed with pasta).
The easy-going, happy, cool vibe continued with Penny Hemming, Riverford’s gardener and tour guide who writes penny’s gardening blog on the Riverford website. Penny took us around to see the farm and some of Riverford’s epic polytunnels, some of which are half an acre in size. And knowing my keenness for broad bean tops, she even took me by the broad bean fields and let me pick a some broad beans to take home with me (alas, all of the tops had been picked).
Some may say that Riverford loses points for farming on such a massive scale. But having toured the farm, I have to wonder what’s wrong with scaling? They are a business after all, and have to meet demand. And if they can increase the amount of food that is farmed (and consumed) organically, is that a bad thing?
Moreover, as much as Riverford’s farm is huge, the place still manages to retain a warm, cosy, friendly vibe that I absolutely loved. The people are just so happy – and to me, the quality of a business is as much about the staff as it is the product. With a staff this content, they must be doing something right.
You can find more photos from my Riverford Farm Tour and Lunch on Flickr.
My trip to Riverford Farm was arranged and provided by The Food Travel Company as part of their South West England holiday. Disclaimer: The Food Travel Company is a client of mine, and I wouldn’t work with them if they didn’t rock. For more information about their awesome foodie tours, visit thefoodtravelcompany.com or follow them on Twitter at @foodtravelco.