Pioneering, award-winning North Yorkshire business, Riverford Organic Farmers, reaches two impressive milestones this month – as it celebrates not only its tenth anniversary of farming for flavour in the North of England but 30 years of farming in the UK.
It has also announced that it will become employee-owned by 2018.
Home Farm at Newby Wiske, near Northallerton is one of four Riverford farms countrywide which together produce and deliver the company’s iconic veg boxes to more than 47,000 homes each week.
To mark the company’s double celebration, Riverford hosted a Flavour Tour of Master Veg cookery classes, tastings and two exclusive feasts for customers this week, demonstrating how to turn a brimming box of veg into an inspirational organic feast.
Peter Richardson’s family has farmed at Home Farm/Newby Wiske for three generations. Peter converted the farm to organic in 1996, renewing his love of producing food sustainably in the process, and set up the veg box scheme with Riverford in 2007.
The farm employs 20 staff and is supported by other local organic farmers in the North to offer a wide range and variety of produce to Riverford’s customers throughout Yorkshire and the North.
Now a nationwide network of farmers and veg teams with the business motto of ‘good food, good farming, good business’, Riverford Organic Farmers was founded by farmer Guy Watson in Devon in 1987 – growing the veg on the family farm and delivering to just 30 customers out of the back of his 2CV.
Riverford’s efforts to minimise its environmental impact through its farming methods – by minimising food waste, minimising and recycling packaging, and paying close attention to every aspect of their carbon footprint – were recognised by The Observer when the Riverford veg box was named Ethical Product of the Decade.
Following investment in green energy solutions, the farms are self-sufficient. Guy Watson has twice been voted BBC Farmer of the Year and this year was awarded Best Organic Farmer of the Year and Organic Market Innovator of the Year at the Soil Association’s The Best of Organic Market Awards.
Guy Watson said: “We choose the varieties we grow for flavour rather than yield or cosmetic perfection and think our veg is so good it deserves to be shouted about; our 30th birthday felt like a great chance to do this.
“Our ongoing mission to lead the way in vegetables, challenging industry norms and getting as many as possible to live life on the veg continues unabated, but then we have always done business a little differently.
“Despite our impressive growth over the last 30 years, we’re not here for profit; I have had dozens of offers to buy out the business, but will never do so and instead it will become employee owned by 2018.
“Selling to venture capitalists would mean turning Riverford into an enterprise driven purely by the bottom line; that’s not what we’re about. I started the business to produce something useful to the world, so to protect our model of sustainable large-scale food production, the staff will soon own the majority instead.
“It’s an exciting time and a big change. Employee ownership will not guarantee enlightened management, devolved decision making and more innovation but we are hoping, with thought, coaching, nudging and the normal navel gazing, it will be the catalyst for an accelerated transition in that direction.”