• Choose less food waste

    One third of food grown is never eaten. If food waste were a country, it would rank as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US!

Recent research suggests that reducing food waste would be the third most effective solution to fighting climate change. So where do we start to address the problem? At the start of the supply chain: on the farm. In the UK, an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of food are wasted on the farm every year.

The charity Feedback are on a mission to do something about this. Their recent report examined how supermarkets play a role in the overproduction and subsequent waste of food on UK farms. Trading practices including order cancellations, last minute changes to forecasts, retrospective changes to supply agreements and strict cosmetic standards all cause edible food to be unnecessarily wasted.

The biggest reason identified by farmers for food waste was that cosmetic standards were not met. Produce is rejected for being the ‘wrong’ shape, size or colour – despite being perfectly good to eat.

Another factor is supermarkets’ inflexible contracts, which make overproduction and the resulting waste normal. Farmers must fulfil buyers’ orders exactly, or risk losing the contract. Because uncontrollable factors like weather and pests mean farmers can’t reliably predict their final quantities, they have no other option than to produce significantly too much as a matter of course.

Feedback’s report highlights the dangerous power imbalance in the food system, whereby large retailers burden farmers with both food waste and the associated costs. Supermarkets have over 85% of the market share of grocery stores in Britain; farmers commented that this market concentration means they have fewer alternative outlets that will accept the lower grade and surplus product that supermarkets won’t take. Supermarket mergers (such as the recently proposed merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda) will only make this worse.

It is clear that our current food system is not working. We desperately need to move towards food supply chains that are fair, discourage overproduction, and respect environmental as well as financial costs.

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Choose Riverford? Choose short supply chains and minimal waste.

Riverford do things very differently. Selling directly to the customer means that every vegetable already has a home in our veg boxes before it is even planted. If any of our crops produce more than we expect, we are usually able to accommodate the surplus in our veg boxes.

Having an extremely short supply chain and selling directly also means we can decide exactly what does and doesn’t go into our boxes, and therefore have much more relaxed cosmetic guidelines. We choose the varieties we grow for flavour rather than uniformity; customers often find wonky veg in their boxes, or increased quantities if a crop has come up small, for example two small but tasty heads of broccoli rather than one large. Our long term and direct relationship with our customers breeds understanding and tolerance.

As farmers ourselves, we know the importance of looking after our suppliers: our business is founded on the principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s growing. What we can’t grow ourselves is sourced from small family farmers. We commit to their crops and prices often more than a year in advance, safeguarding farmers from uncertainty and giving them a guaranteed market for their produce.

However, our model isn’t completely fool proof. There are occasions when a batch of fruit or veg simply can’t go into the boxes. It may be too large, too ripe, or partly damaged so that it won’t even last a few days. Whatever the reason, we have a system in place to make sure it does not go to waste, which includes: donations to local food banks, use in our staff canteen and farm restaurant, free veg for staff to take home, and food for The Riverford Dairy herd (they particularly like broccoli!). If it’s really not good enough for human or cow consumption, it is composted and used as organic fertiliser on the next season’s crops.

When you choose a Riverford veg box, you choose taste, not waste. 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 still, it’s all 100% organic.