Things are finally happening on the renaming front. New signs will be going up in the next few weeks and the website is being ‘reskinned’. That’s a technical term – not one I borrowed from Silence of the Lambs. And, at last, we’re beginning to see a trickle of Ben’s Farm Shop products in the shops. Having spent six months not being able to tell anyone and another six months being slightly embarrassed by the whole thing, it’s a relief that it’s finally happening.
Why are we doing it?
I feel as though I’m repeating myself but I’ve been told that I have to say it again. Apparently lots of people don’t get or haven’t read the newsletters and think there is some evil, corporate plot afoot. So, if the opportunity arises, we’d be grateful if you’d pass it on. We’re changing our name to Ben’s Farm Shop because as the businesses have grown and, recently, prospered, the confusion surrounding the Riverford name has become more and more apparent. Riverford Organic Farmers (veg box scheme) have done great work building up their brand. The farm shops are not exclusively organic, as we also want to support local, ethical and interesting suppliers who aren’t organic. It feels right and proper that the assumption that many people make (that everything bearing the Riverford name should be organic) should be true.
I hate the whole brand thing anyway – a business should be what it does, not what it says it does. I’m more a retailer and food producer than a farmer and I just want to sell good, healthy, sustainably produced food. It doesn’t have to be certified organic – in fact, we’re increasingly finding, that our suppliers share our views.
The Almond Thief Bakery for example, use all organic ingredients but they can’t be bothered with the rigmarole of getting certified. They sell everything on quality grounds anyway so why should they bother? The same applies to Sharpham Dairy. The herd is now at Dartington where new tenant, Jon Perkin, follows organic principles. Obviously there are plenty of charlatans out there but we think we’re pretty good at spotting them.
For us in the farm shop kitchen, over 95% of the ingredients are organic but only about 65% of the products produced are certified as such. It’s impossible to be flexible, reactive and make the range we do if you have the organic millstone around your neck. Our chicken stock, for example, is made from organic chicken, onions, leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, cider vinegar and peppercorns but the bay leaves are from my sister’s garden and the thyme and parsley are from my poly-tunnel – so it can’t be sold as organic. The alternative might be made using organic dried thyme which, I hope you’ll agree, would be a bad move, flavour wise. (Stop me Ed – I’m going off on one).
I guess what I’m saying is please trust us, nothing is going to change.
It doesn’t seem as though 2017 is going to present us with a month when there isn’t any news. January was road closures at Riverford, February was the Tapas bar and March is about reopening our rebuilt shop at Kitley, Yealmpton. It’s beginning to look pretty good and the shop and cafe will be open again by the time you get this.