Last time around I mentioned that we’ve been doing a bit of navel gazing about the future of the business. We’ve been selling good food for well over thirty years and been associated by name, family, ethos and location with two other Riverford businesses – the veg box scheme and the dairy. But recently I’ve felt that, as Tancredi said in The Leopard; “For things to remain the same, things will have to change”.
Riverford Organic are just that (Riverford and organic) and have nailed their colours, very firmly, to the organic flag pole. As has the dairy. There is a lot I admire about organics but I don’t think the shops would be any the better for being 100% organic. There are lots of reasons for this: there still doesn’t seem to be any sign of the price differential coming down and although organic is a good blueprint for farming it’s massively inhibiting for food processors and cooks – hence the uninspiring nature of much processed organic food. And for every tonne of organic produce, there are many times that of good, sustainably produced and safe, conventional alternatives. I want to be able to offer that too. Some product areas just don’t offer a satisfactory organic option – usually for economic reasons. Pork is a classic example. The double whammy of slow growth rates and expensive food make small pigs for fresh pork cuts too expensive. Larger pigs are good for bacon, sausages etc but not for chop and roasts. Back in the day, we tried it and you voted with your feet. Quite apart from the economics, there are plenty of artisan producers who, despite having impeccable credentials and believing in the ethos, can’t see the point of getting certified. The Almond Thief Bakery for example. I want to be able to sell their products too.
So a 100% organic shop would be extremely expensive, or poorly stocked and uninspiring. One of the joys of being a small business is getting to know and trust our suppliers. Over 30 years I have developed pretty good antennae for who we can trust and I don’t’ think we need to rely exclusively on organically certified produce. Small is good; small and organic even better, when we can achieve that.
As a family, we have agreed that Riverford is an organic farm and the Riverford name should be synonymous with organic. So everything’s staying the same but we’re changing our name – to, rather to my embarrassment, Ben’s Farm Shop. A much valued (for his humour as well as his work) staff member A.N.Wag said ‘that must have taken you a long time to think up’. Well it did. We tried but just couldn’t think of anything else. Thirty three years is a long time and I’m about the only thing left standing.