Saturday, 18 March 2006

Organic veg delivery boxes rool

Is it a truism that as you get older the more you feel the need to complain? Me, I expect decent and friendly service and have been known to carp when it doesn't come as standard. I've mentioned Riverford before and whilst waiting for the new veg garden to become a reality, the weekly boxes have been a fab addition, bringing new varieties and mostly seasonal goodies at their best. The Guardian praised them last week with the acknowledgement that the soil on the carrots could be collected to create your very own London based smallholding; in my case, when I'm too lazy to scrape the soil into the compost bucket, it just clogs the sink and the less than organic Mr Muscle sink unblocker (the things that have websites!) has had to work overtime. But then we got the tomatoes. In January, February and March. Horrid, quickly turning rotten, tasteless. What else would they be in winter, and why were they in my box? My query was very swiftly answered; my local Riverford distributors obviously felt the same way although they were tactful. Then Adrian, Riverford's Customer Services Manager got in touch and apologised for the poor quality of the product: "Whilst our own tomatoes will not be ready for some months, we do feel that having tomatoes in the boxes brings a positive addition for this time of the year. We are therefore currently importing tomatoes but we are aware however, that the quality of some of them has not been up to the standard that we would expect. The taste of the product has actually been good but there have been issues with their physical quality including blemished skins and mould appearing very quickly." That made me have an immediate munch on one of the unappetising examples to test out the tastiness: My conclusions, shared with Adrian were that they don't even feel right in the hand - if I was selecting produce from a market stall, I would not be purchasing them - if I was picking them off a homegrown plant I wouldn't buy that seed variety again. The stalk end was showing signs of incipient mould and had been in the fridge ever since delivery (I rarely need or want to put summer tomatoes in the fridge - far tastier at room temperature or warm off the plant). The flesh texture was both hard and weirdly pappy - like a tomato out of season - although the pulp and seeds were quite flavoursome. As nice as the idea of tomatoes is, I just cannot square organic principles with this unseasonable (and importing) approach - although if the produce was fabulous I am as apt to drop a principle as anyone else. As they are so very far from fabulous, what is the point? I love tomatoes, but they need good hot sun for good ripening and taste. I appreciate that they feel the need to jazz up the veg boxes in the winter months, but the tomato thing just isn't working - the odd lettuce they have been putting in have, on the other hand, been fine. Adrian kindly said the feedback was useful and much appreciated, and in this week's box is a stop press note that they have been disappointed with the standard of their tomatoes, that they have tried to persevere with the grower on the promise of improvement of quality, but as this has not happened they have removed them from the boxes. I am sure I have not been the only one having a carp, but isn't is refreshing that the customer's views are truly taken into consideration to improve the quality of the service. Full marks Riverford.

Friday, 17 March 2006

First lambing in Devon (2006)

"It's warmer in Devon - let's lamb a bit earlier this year" has turned out to be somewhat wishful thinking. It snows, it hails, it's as windy as hell, but the lambs have started to arrive all the same. A quarter of the way through and we have had all ewe lambs - how weird is that? Never one for probability theory, I guess that each lamb has a 50/50 chance of being one sex or the other, so I presume that there is no greater probability that the remaining lambs will turn out to be rams. Perhaps the new ram, Toy-boy, has an intriguing chromosomal make-up. The old ram, Thoom (or Tomb? was never given the spelling) was put in with the ewes at the same time as Toy-boy and there is no proof of who did what and to whom. Raddles and all that malarkey seem too much trouble for our small flock. Reading Hardy's Return of the Native can put you off red raddle for life, but it's just a crayon or powder - originally red ochre or iron oxide - that is put on the ram's chest so you can see which ewe has been served and by which ram, using different colours for each ram. Some use a harness to attach a crayon block to the ram, but it all seems rather too S&M to me.
The new mothers are doing their thing admirably, seeing off dogs Mopsa and Fenn in no uncertain terms if they get too close (ie in the same field) and producing huge quantities of milk; I don't know how they manage to walk.