How Can We Meet Consumer Demand Whilst Considering Climate Change?

Consumers often want their food to be local.  Particularly as we realise that climate change is the biggest problem we face, many of us are keen to reduce food miles.  We may struggle to decide whether we want our food to be organic or local.  It is often well-nigh impossible to get both.

Riverford has been growing seasonal organic veg for 30 years now – it’s at the heart of who we are.  Vegboxes are about bringing the best of our fields into your home and encouraging people to rediscover a love for British produce.  BUT we don’t want to be so inflexible that we drive people back into the supermarkets.  The modern shopper often wants tomatoes, bananas, apples and avocadoes all year round.  So there are times when we need to look for alternatives to British produce.

In planning our vegboxes, we prioritise UK-grown produce.  As the next option to fill our boxes and keep them interesting for you we look to our own farm in the Vendée in France and then to our partner organic farmers in Southern Europe.  Then of course, for bananas, pineapple, even apples out of season, we work with growers farther afield.  We work with our growers long-term, we pay a fair price and we never, ever bring produce in by plane.

In the peak of the summer, over 90% of our veg is either homegrown or grown on our own farm in France.  Taken across the whole year, the average is around 77%.

There is a perception that local is always best.  You might go into your supermarket today and buy peppers and be pleased that they are grown in the UK.  They may even be from Kent – they could well come from ‘planet Thanet’ – a huge expanse of greenhouses which have replaced the traditional fields of UK crops such as cabbage that used to grow in that area.  These peppers are grown under glass with artificial heat and light, at enormousenvironmental cost.  

 Over ten years ago, based on the findings of an environmental study with Exeter University, Riverford stopped growing any produce under glass. We grow crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumber in the UK season in unheated polytunnels, giving us a UK season of around 12 weeks.  For the rest of the year – when our customers still want tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers – we get the produce from two organic farmers (both called Paco!) in Southern Spain.  

The carbon emissions for the produce grown under glass in the UK were ten times that of the emissions for the veg grown in Spain and brought in by lorry.

If we are serious about reversing climate change, we have to stop growing produce with heat and light.  It makes much more sense to stick to the rule of ‘right plant, right place’ and bring it into the UK by lorry.

If we think about apples – in season Riverford’s apples and pears come from Mole End organic farm in Kent.  We sell these delicious apples throughout the UK apple season, from the earliest varieties in August to the later varieties, the last of which come out of storage and go into the boxes in early April.  They are all delicious.  But our customers still want apples from May to July.  So in that period we get our apples from a fabulous organic farm in Argentina.  We bring them over by ship and truck, which has very little environmental cost, and they taste fantastic.  

Riverford does offer a 100% UK veg box for those who are truly committed to a seasonal British diet.  We’ll keep looking for ways to make our range as homegrown as possible, including trying new varieties and giving our customers plenty of recipes that celebrate UK fruit and veg.

Riverford Tunbridge Wells is a local business, delivering organic vegboxes and more to customers in Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding areas. Yet Riverford is a national company – we now deliver to a loyal band of around 50,000 customers nationwide.  Our farms are in Devon, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and France.  

Live life on the veg!

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