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SCOFF & QUAFF By Jules Serkin

Jules SerkinI have spent the past two weeks banging my head against the brick wall of a major UK company that hoodwinked me into buying something on the pretence it was a freebie.

As I was fobbed off repeatedly by call centre automatons reading scripted apologies and blanket procedures, and calls I was reminded of Little Britain’s “computer says No” sketch, where the operator insists the person she’s dealing with is deceased. Too often it does seem the bigger the company, the more it dehumanizes its customers into one commodity that’s just there to make them money.

Amidst my frustration, it was a real delight to hear of a company supplying in our region that’s growing more human as it gets bigger.  Riverford, with sisters Liz and Caroline Asteraki running the local franchise delivering vegboxes to the door, has just been named Best Retailer at the Observer Ethical Awards 2014.

It collaborated on a two-year study with the University of Exeter to ensure every aspect of the business is as sustainable as possible, from the tomatoes it sells to the packaging it uses.

“We pride ourselves on being a fair-thinking business that makes considered decisions about how to do business with minimum impact on the environment and wider community,” said Liz Asteraki, of Old Wives Lees. “Our policies include supporting small-scale British farmers and producers as much as possible, and never air-freighting produce from overseas. To have won such a prestigious award that shows you can do well in business without being unethical.”

Riverford began in 1987, delivering organic vegetables to 30 local homes. Word spread, and with it came the challenge of how to meet demand without compromising a commitment to local growing and employment, supporting local farmers and keeping a close link between grower and consumer. The solution was to team up with sister farms who share the same ethos, growing and delivering to their local areas.

Now the Riverford veg boxes are delivered to more than 47,000 homes every week.  As well as vegetables, each delivery contains locally sourced organic meat, fish, dairy and dry goods, along with step-by-step cooking instructions. Not only will every recipe take less than 45 minutes to cook, but it guarantees prices will be 20% cheaper than organic produce bought from the supermarket.

The company has won many awards including Best Retailer at the Observer Ethical Awards in 2013, 2011, 2010 and 2009, Best Independent Retailer in the RSPCA Good Business Awards and numerous Compassion in World Farming Awards. Guy Watson has been named BBC Farmer of the Year twice, in 2006 and again in 2013. In addition, its restaurant the Riverford Field Kitchen won Best Ethical Restaurant 2010 and 2009 in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. Riverford’s first book, the Riverford Farm Cook Book, won Best First Book and Best Work on British Food at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2009. This was followed by a second book in 2011, Everyday and Sunday, Recipes from Riverford Farm.

In 2010 Riverford launched their ‘Riverford Cooks’ campaign to inspire people to cook from scratch using a vegbox. Riverford Cooks work up and down the country in their local communities on activities from cooking lunches in people’s homes through to public cookery workshops and demos. The business also launched a ‘veg machine’ app in 2011, to make it easy to find creative recipes for using up their veg.

“It has got bigger,” says Founder Guy Watson. “But getting bigger has enabled us to do many things. We look after our suppliers well, we look after the fields and nature. It is a very human business.”

It was lovely to be part of the first vintage of Squerryes Sparkling Wine at the Squerryes Estate in Westerham. Dame Kelly Holmes attended and over 2,000 glasses of bubbly were served up by Henry Warde, with one crate auctioned raising £900 for ChYps Childrens Charity. The first vintage is a blend of 40% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir and 25% pinot meunier grown on the Squerryes 35 acres of vines. The summer release of 2,500 bottles is almost sold out. The Christmas release will be a further 4,000 bottles. Details on 

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