Guy’s Rant – local food & why a French farm

So here I am standing on my farm in France, Le Boutinard, which is in Western France the coast is about 10 miles away What am I doing a Devon farmer who can’t speak French surrounded by a load of French people, most of which don’t like the English? I bought this farm because we produce all these veg boxes and there comes a certain time of the year in April, May and early June Where it’s really difficult to produce a varied, interesting, good quality box because all the winter vegetables have finished all the spring vegetables haven’t started and we’ve got the ‘hungry gap’ right in the middle. We started looking at a climatic map of Europe, mainly France, and decided that this area along the West Coast, just north of La Rochelle would get us about 6 weeks earlier than Devon. The sunlight starts coming up in February and it starts getting warmer and things grow faster and they’re healthier. It’s 250 miles by road back to the farm in Devon which is actually less distance than going from the east of England from the Fens which is where so many vegetables are grown. Because it goes by truck and ferry, I mean comparing it to air freight, which is something we never do, many people might think why don’t you grow it in a greenhouse in the UK, but when you do the sums, as we did with Exeter University, it is completely insane. I mean it uses 10 times more energy to grow in heated glass in the UK than it does in Spain without heat and then move them in a truck. So of course many people would say it’s a contradiction that veg boxes all should be about local vegetables I would counter that with a view that most people are total hypocrites because if you open the fridges of those people at this time of year you’d find them full of Spanish vegetables. I mean what do we mean by local really? I think for a lot of people actually what they mean is that they feel some sort of connection with where the food comes from and we are able to tell the story here our customers sometimes visit and camp on the farm so there is that kind of connection. If you ask people for a glib answer they’ll always say that they want what’s local and seasonal but if what’s local and season is a sprouting potato, a soft apple, and a woody swede then they’re not gonna buy it. Most people have been pretty accepting of this as a sensible compromise. I think if we were dogmatic about just producing local vegetables then I don’t think I’d have a business. It’s been sobering for me in all sorts of ways buying this farm and I did loose an astronomical amount of money in the first three years. It is actually making money now but I lost money really because I just thought arrogantly I could transfer what I’d learnt from 25 years in Devon and come and show the French how to do it and the soil is very different, the climate is different you have to manage it in a completely different way. Certainly around here people are very rooted in the land and I do like that and the staff we have are fantastic and are very very hard working. Yes you can’t get them here on a Sunday, yes you can’t get them here on a bank holiday but when they are here they work really hard whatever the weather and I’m very pleased to have bought it now actually.

13 thoughts on “Guy’s Rant – local food & why a French farm

  1. Thanks Guy, i always look forward to the lovely veggies in the weekly boxes, they are healthy, tasty….and smell like vegetables from my childhood. I read the newsletters, too – good to know what is happening on the farm, or your musings which tend to flow in the direction of my thinking….Cannot thank Riverford enough!

  2. Thanks Guy and all the riverfordies. We think it is like Christmas ever time we get a delivery from you, such great food full of flavor and goodness. Keeping us living on the veg and some meat too.

  3. awesome video!! Exactly why I've been with riverfords for several years now. Your honesty is always appreciated

  4. In addition to the climatic advantages, land and property prices, particularly rural, are dramatically lower than Britain. One of the many reasons we are moving there (hoping to establish permaculture system on our 1 ha plot).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *