Friday mornings are a bit exciting in my house; it’s Riverford delivery day. At around 9.30am a friendly driver drops off the weekly box (hiding it behind the recycling bin if no-one’s home) packed with a delicious selection of organic fruit and vegetables. And, rather helpfully, a leaflet detailing different ways to cook some of the more unusual contents.
I decided to find out more about the faces behind the vegetables and met up with Eleanor Fletcher who runs the York & East Riding Riverford Franchise.
Hello Eleanor! Can you tell us about how you came to run the local Riverford delivery scheme?
Hi! Yes, well I was born in York and grew up in Helmsley before life took me to London where I worked in publishing. As a family, we’d planned on moving back to York at some point anyway, then one day I spotted the York Riverford franchise was available. We’d been Riverford customers for many years and I was familiar with the products and really liked the ethos of the company, so I took the plunge and applied.
We began the new York franchise in August 2018 – it really was like jumping on a galloping horse! There used to be 2 franchises in Yorkshire but these were combined into one when I took over. We now cover York and East Riding and over to the west as far as Pontefract and Castleford.
Wow, that is a huge area to cover! I’m guessing the food isn’t all grown up here in Yorkshire; where does it come from?
Riverford has 3 main farms in the UK; one fairly locally in Northallerton, one in Cambridgeshire, and one near Totnes in Devon. We grow different produce at each farm according to what suits the soil and climate. For example Yorkshire’s good for potatoes and brassicas, Cambridgeshire for onions, leeks and lots of salads in the sandy soil, while Totnes has a milder climate suited to tomatoes and winter salad leaves which wouldn’t survive well up here in the North.
All our meat comes from the Riverford butchery in Devon. Dairy products are supplied by Acorn Dairies up near Barnard Castle and eggs from a farm in County Durham.
Is all Riverford produce UK grown?
No, we use some French farms in the Vendee, and a co-operative of Spanish farms too. All our produce is land freighted though, we never air freight. And thanks to extensive research we’ve discovered that a tomato grown in Southern Spain and land freighted to the UK has a lower carbon footprint than one grown in a heated greenhouse here in England.
One of the common objections about organic produce is that it’s expensive and hard to get hold of. That’s often the case in supermarkets but your boxes pretty much prove that to be wrong! Why do think customers choose Riverford?
I think they choose us for a variety of reasons. Concerns about intensive farming methods and pesticides is a big driver for a lot of customers. They appreciate the higher welfare standards of organic farms – for both the animals and staff – and love the freshness of our products. Our usual turnaround time from farm to doorstep is 36-48 hours. We don’t leave our veg hanging around in distribution centres for days and weeks, which is why it lasts longer and tastes so fresh.
Customers recognise how organic farming is preserving and enriching the soil and caring for wildlife. Plastic is a really big issue too. Our boxes use 77% less plastic compared to the supermarket equivalents of our products – that’s a huge difference. We reuse the cardboard delivery boxes time and time again, and some of our smaller cardboard boxes can be composted on a household compost heap.
As well as running the delivery scheme you also run cooking workshops showing people how to use the produce in the boxes. What are your favourite veggies and how do you serve them?
That is a tough question! *thinks for a moment* Ok, I’m going to answer it by seasons…
In winter I love the deep savoury flavour of celeriac in soups, roasted, or as celeriac mash.
Autumn has to be cime di rapa which is a bit like spinach, but with the pepperyness of rocket.
Then in spring and summer I love using the bunched carrots. They’re thinner and less robust than winter carrots but perfect for roasting whole and using the carrot leaves in pesto instead of basil.
Thank you so much Eleanor!
To find out more about Eleanor’s delivery scheme and cookery workshops hop over to;
Enjoy ‘Wicked Leeks’ the Riverford online magazine packed with info and tips about organic farming, sustainability, eating organic on a budget and more at https://wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk/
Do you grow your own organic veggies?
Have you got a tried and trusted veg box delivery scheme near you?
Tell us more in the comments below or over in the Facebook group. And if you’ve enjoyed this article please share it on!
If I had a magic time machine I’d go back to the early 90s and have a quiet word with myself about food.
I’d also have a quiet word about hairstyles and picking at spots, but food would be first.
At age 14 I was a terrible pescetarian. I lived on tuna pasta bake, Linda McCartney Country Pies (*instant bloating*) Findus cheese pancakes (oh they were good in a good-but-nasty way), baked beans, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Black, two sugars.
I carried on eating like this into my late teens and early twenties. My repertoire expanded a little when I moved out of home and lived with people who introduced me to houmous and feta cheese.
As you might expect, my health wasn’t exactly dazzling. Every month I had 10-14 days of pre-menstrual tension symptoms of anger, depression, forgetfulness, brain fuzz, bloating and spots. This was followed by heavy painful periods lasting 7-8 days. I ping-ponged through the day on sugar-caffeine highs followed by exhausting slumps, and my bowels could tick off every type of poo on the Bristol Stool Scale.
If I’d known then what I know now, I would have abso-flippin’-lutely eaten differently. The cheese pancakes would have been accompanied by broccoli for a start…
Nutritional gems I’d share with my Pearl Jam fan-girl, Doc Marten wearing, crap-food loving 14yr old self:
Drink some water. I lived on coffee & tea, both of which were playing havoc with my digestion and blocking iron absorption (not a great combo with heavy periods). Drinking at least 1l of water a day would have done my digestion, energy, and skin a whole lot of good.
Eat greens, everyday. Mum always included at least 1 green veggie with our evening meal, however I could have been a lot more pro-active myself. Brassica veggies in particular (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, rocket) are packed with nutrients that support oestrogen processing in the liver – essential for hormone balance and managing PMT.
Ease up on sugar. Adding 2 sugars to every black coffee really racked up my sugar intake and contributed to the bloating and teen spots. Add in white bread, white pasta, and other refined carbs and the sugar total was HUGE! Swapping to herbal teas (which I did in my early twenties) and complex carbs would have made a significant difference to energy, digestion, skin health, and hormone balance.
Eat Real Food. Back then, as a pescetarian I really needed to be eating a lot more fish, eggs, beans, pulses, and colourful fruits & veggies and none of that processed fake food marketed to vegetarians.
Protein, protein, protein! Again, the fish, beans, pulses and eggs would have helped with this, alongside nuts and seeds. I was in dire need of protein building blocks for healthy skin, zingy energy levels, and stable moods, and my diet wasn’t supplying them!
Prep a proper packed lunch. A typical lunch consisted of cheese sandwiches with white bread, cake, and maybe a piece of fruit (maybe). Then I’d come home at 4pm and feast on chocolate spread sandwiches. Blimey, my pancreas was working overtime! Better options would have been wholemeal pittas with salad & fish / eggs / fruit salad with nuts & seeds / houmous / guacamole / and a lot less chocolate spread!
What nutritional gems would you share with your teenage self?
We’ve had some fun discussions about our teen diets over in the Facebook group: come and join us!
It’s that time of year again…the ninth month… it’s Sourdough September!
This month-long celebration of all things sourdough is a national event run by the Real Bread Campaign with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy genuine sourdough products and support the independent bakers who produce them.
Now I’m certainly no baker. I can talk about food, write about food, and on the whole, produce tasty nutritious meals – but baking? No. No. And again no. My skills are seriously lacking. But this doesn’t stop me enjoying the occasional slice or two of a good quality sourdough bread. With butter. Natch.
True sourdough bread contains only flour, water, salt, and the starter culture that triggers the fermentation process and natural leavening. Compare this with the litany of ingredients in mass produced breads: emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers, improvers, bleaching agents, acidifiers, colourings – the list is looong.
Why are all these ingredients used?
Because of the Chorleywood process. Since its creation in 1961, the vast majority of bread made in the UK is done so by this process. It’s a time-saving method of producing dough with minimal fermentation time, and is needed to meet our (apparently) insatiable demand for processed bread. The process requires all these extra goodies in order to work. Plus preservatives and mould inhibitors to give the loaf a longer shelf-life.
Baking a sourdough loaf requires time and patience and brings with it an understanding of what real food – slow food – truly is. The process cannot be rushed, the end results are different every time, but the flavour and taste are worth the effort!
A potential nutritional advantage of true sourdough is the way the fermentation process reduces gluten levels. The natural bacteria in the starter culture ferment and breakdown a lot of the wheat proteins, including gluten, making them easier to digest.
Italian research from 2007 explored the gluten-degrading powers of fermentation microbes. The study results show how bread made by the sourdough fermentation process had residual gluten levels of 12ppm (parts per million). Anything below 20ppm is classed as ‘gluten-free’. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every sourdough loaf out there contains such tiny amounts of gluten, but it does illustrate the gluten reducing powers of natural sourdough fermentation.
When buying sourdough do watch out for what the Real Bread Campaign call ‘sourfraux’ – fake sourdough bread. Thanks to the rise in popularity of artisan breads like sourdough, many supermarkets and bakers are producing imitation sourdoughs that still include additives and haven’t gone through the full fermentation process. It is worth asking how the bread has been made and whether the proper starter culture has been used, so you can be confident of buying a genuine sourdough loaf.
Care to share any marvellous bread baking tips?
Do you have a sourdough starter you’d like to pass on?
Hop over to the Facebook group to tell us your breadmaking secrets…
(Photo credit: Ben Garratt on Unsplash)