Below is a reply from Ed Hamer, on behalf of the LWA to ‘Guy’s newsletter – Veg boxes; the vision & the reality’ published on Riverfords website: http://blog.riverford.co.uk/2015/04/24/guys-newsletter-veg-boxes-the-vision-the-reality/
I read with interest last week’s newsletter “Veg boxes; the vision & the reality”. Your delight with the quality of your hungry gap boxes is clearly a matter of pride and indeed illustrates just how far Riverford has come from the vision of the first tiny box schemes in the UK.
I myself am a founder and full time employee of a “tiny box scheme” (90 boxes a week). We are in fact a community supported veg-box scheme, one of over 200 CSA’s currently trading in the UK. In common with all CSA schemes our customers want more from their fresh organic vegetables than simply low cost and convenience. They commit to support our farm throughout the entire growing season, including the hungry gap, because they know that farming is a year round occupation and the work doesn’t stop when the veg does.
Our customers are also largely ex-Riverford customers who have come to us because they wanted to return to the vision of those first tiny box shemes. They value the fact that everything they receive in their box is grown on a farm they know, they value the fact that they’re not encouraging international freight of staple vegetables simply because it can be achieved at a profit, and above all they value the fact that their growers are paid a living wage and do not operate at the mercy of super market buyers. And despite the fact that they don’t even receive vegetables from us for three months of the year I can honestly say that “mutual disappointment” isn’t a phrase I’ve ever heard from one of our customers.
You may or may not be aware that a small farmers’ union was launched in 2012 to campaign for the rights of “tiny box schemes” and producers in the UK. The Landworkers’ Alliance now has over 400 paying members and has been incredibly successful in raising the challenges facing small-scale producers with politicians, policy makers and the media over the past three years. Our members are all active producers, nearly all of us still harvest carrots and potatoes by hand and some of us even harvest our spinach with scissors. The Landworkers’ Alliance is also a member of La Via Campesina which represents 200 million “peasant” farmers around the world.
Almost without exception we have joined the LWA because we don’t agree that “the relentless march to scale and specialization in farming is as depressing as it seems inevitable”. On the contrary we are, every one of us, actively demonstrating that an alternative food system is possible. Due to limitations of scale and lack of public investment many of us farm without mechanization, we supply very localized markets and survive on a minimal profit margin. In your eyes we may be living like peasants but the fact is we actively choose to farm in this way.
While we would commend your attempts at forming a farming co-op, the reality is that Riverford as a business has grown so large that your economies of scale have severely undermined the livelihoods of hundreds of small-scale producers around the country, who are forced to either compete on price or get out of farming altogether. While many of us accept this as a symptom of modern farming we are all, in our own ways, trying to hold onto our own niche that allows us to continue doing a job we love while just about paying the rent.
Far from romanticizing a “peasant” livelihood we are proud to offer an alternative to customers who still value the roots and culture of the organic farming movement and wish to support us despite the challenges we face. We do not doubt that you yourself and Riverford have contributed much to the organic movement over the past twenty years, it’s just a shame that you now seem to think there is no place for others to fill the niche Riverford once did.
Yours Sincerely Ed Hamer,
On behalf of the Landworkers’ Alliance