• Choose eating the seasons

    It’s better for the planet – and it tastes better, too.

Step into the aisles of a British supermarket and it could be any season. We have become accustomed to a year-round supply of all our favourites, from strawberries to asparagus. Limitless choice is tempting, but fruit and veg are more flavoursome by far in their natural seasons – and out-of-season imports often come at a staggering environmental cost.

Riverford reckon our organic veg boxes (The Observer’s Ethical Product of the Decade) strike a pretty good balance between principles, pragmatism and pleasure. We choose to savour the flavours of every season, enjoying old favourites at their best and championing little-known British veg. What little we can’t grow at home (in 2017, 77% of our veg was UK-grown) is transported by road or sea – never air freight.

 

Celebrating the seasons

“Riverford isn’t dogmatic about it, but I reckon we could eat locally and seasonally 90% of the time without getting bored.”

- Guy Singh-Watson, Riverford founder

We do our best to inform and enthuse about what’s in season and to provide the widest range our climate will allow. Eating seasonally isn’t a chore – it’s a pleasure. Parsnips taste best in the winter, asparagus in the late spring, sweetcorn in the summer and squash in the autumn.

There are some staples that we are always excited to see springing up in the fields as the year turns. The warmer months bring a colourful glut of beans, beetroot, sweetcorn, red berries and plums. Autumn and winter come in earthier hues: squash and pumpkins, cabbages and kales, and purple sprouting broccoli galore – a delicacy to rival asparagus. 

But it’s not just about old favourites. Thanks to the green genius of our growers, there is always some little-eaten British veg enjoying a renaissance in our fields. In spring and summer, try the alien-looking kohlrabi, and artichoke-esque cardoon stalks. As the weather turns, it’s delicately creamy salsify roots (a forgotten Victorian favourite), and bitter leaves like red radicchio and dandelion leaves.

 

Veg that grow together, go together

Veg that grow in the same local season tend to be harmonious partners on the plate – and well-matched with the cravings of the season. In the heat of summer, you want refreshing salads, barbecues, and cool, creamy desserts; cue the arrival of salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn on the cob and strawberries. And in the winter, the more substantial root veg and dark, leafy kales thrive: just right for hearty cold-weather cooking.

 

Intelligent compromise

In an ideal world, we would all eat with our local season. In the real world, however: bananas, citrus, a 12-month supply of tomatoes, peppers and apples… these things can’t be grown naturally in the UK, but have come to be viewed as non-negotiable essentials in most households. Given this reality, we undertook a 2-year study with Exeter University to allow us to make intelligent and informed compromises.

We had two options: growing out-of-season produce in this country using artificial heat, or importation. Our research concluded that importation by road is by far the greener choice.

Take the example of tomatoes. The huge amounts of heat used in glass hothouses is produced by burning gas or oil. For every kilo of tomatoes grown in this way, 2-3 kilos of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. When we can’t grow tomatoes at home without heat, we truck them over from our grower Paco in Spain. This uses just a tenth of the carbon compared with growing them in the UK using heat. It’s not perfect, but it is the least damaging option – and tomatoes grown under the sun taste a lot better.

Our imports are always brought over by land or sea, never by air. Air freight causes 40-5o times the C02 emission of sea freight.

 

A farm in France

Seven years ago, Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson decided on an interesting addition to his armoury against the Hungry Gap (the gap between winter and spring crops, when British fields are often empty): he’d buy his own farm in France.

Le Boutinard is 10 miles from the coast, in the Vendée region of Western France. He chose the situation very carefully: the light and rainfall there are just right for producing a bounty of colourful spring crops that are ready to harvest just a few vital weeks ahead of the UK season. It’s environmentally friendly, too: by road, Le Boutinard is the same distance from our Devon farm as the Fens.

Choose eating the seasons

When you choose a Riverford veg box, you choose the best of every season. Spuds like your grandad used to grow, the crunchiest cauliflower and the carrotiest carrots, all delivered to your doorstep with minimal fuss and unbeatable quality. And better yet, it’s all 100% organic.