Riverford and the Watsons

In organic food and farming circles, Riverford and the Watson family name are synonymous with ethical business, organic and natural foods and sustainable, organic farming.

John Watson started farming at Riverford almost 70 years ago. He and his wife Gillian had five children who were raised on the farm and have grown to appreciate its stunning environment and the opportunities to farm according to traditional and holistic values.

Oliver has decades of experience as a farmer. He oversees management of the land at Riverford and he is also a director of the Riverford Organic Dairy manufacturing operation. As well, he and Louise run the dairy herd.

Guy set up and organic veg box scheme in 1987 which delivers nationally. In 2018 the business was sold to staff and is now employee owned. Riverford Organic Farmers riverford.co.uk.

Ben runs Ben’s Farm Shops and adopts a slightly different approach, selling good food to local people, much of it from the farm, all of it good, but not all certified organic bensfarmshop.co.uk.


IN THE BEGINNING

John Watson began dairy farming on the land at Riverford in 1951 after graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in Agriculture. The Second World War had just ended and food security was a major issue in Britain. Rationing was still in place and the British government encouraged farmers to increase production by using heavy nitrogen fertilisers to support high levels of food productivity. John became part of an ICI scheme to demonstrate the power of fertilisers only to find that the health of his cows and the condition of his land soon deteriorated.

He researched alternative systems, stopped using chemical fertilisers and began adopting sustainable organic farming methods. The Watson family could be regarded as pioneers in the organic farming movement and the farm has now been certified organic for 30 years.


Where is Riverford?

The Dairy lies amidst Riverford’s 350 hectares of organic land in stunning South Devon. The topography and climate are ideal for dairying. Our cows graze free-range for most of the year on Riverford pastures, spending the worst weeks of the winter in a purpose-built open barn.

THE BIRDS, THE BEES….AND THE BATS

The wildlife at Riverford Dairy – the birds, bees, butterflies, hedgehogs, hares and mice that live in the meadows, hedgerows and trees – are all protected as part of our organic farming commitment to manage natural habitats.

We even have a thriving colony of rare Horseshoe Bats that love the outbuildings, pastureland and tall hedgerows on the farm.


The Dairy today

The Dairy is a small food producing business processing around 35,000 litres of milk a week. Two thirds is made into liquid milk and the rest goes into our range of cheeses, creams, yogurts and butter. Fiona runs the dairy production facility, managing a team of around 15 people who are dedicated to making the top-quality range and to serving our customers.


A little history

John Watson talks about the history of the farm and how he came to realise the benefits of the organic approach

ORGANIC MATTERS

Our land and our products are both certified organic by the Soil Association, a charity that campaigns for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. The Soil Association recognises that there is a direct connection between our health and the way in which the food we eat is produced.

 

Any product sold in the UK that claims to be organic must have organic certification. And that means adhering to rigorous farming, animal husbandry and product standards that are checked every year by the Soil Association.

Here’s a brief summary of standards and practices:

  • No artificial fertilisers are permitted. Farmers must develop a healthy, fertile soil by rotating crops and adding organic matter to condition the soil
  • Land must be rotated. By raising a diversity of crops and animals on the farm and rotating over several seasons, cycles of pests and diseases are minimised and soil fertility is supported
  • Animal welfare is at the heart of the system and a truly free-range lifestyle is guaranteed for animals
  • Cows must spend the majority of their lives outdoors & have appropriate bedding and adequate space when indoors during bad weather
  • Cows diet must be 100% organic
  • Calves can not be weaned before 3 months of age and provision must be made for the future of male calves
  • No routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers is permitted
  • All food labelled as organic must contain 95% of ingredients that come from organically produced plants and animals
  • All food sold as organic comes under EU regulations 834/2007 and 889/2008. The food must have been produced to these regulations, and been inspected and certified by a registered certification body like Soil Association Certification
  • No GM (genetically modified) crops or ingredients are permitted