Organic pioneer Guy Watson has been named the best organic farmer in the UK.
The founder of Riverford was also named Best Organic Market Innovator by the Soil Association.
It was also a celebration for a string of Devon producers who were also honoured in the BOOM awards on Wednesday night – the association’s annual awards for the organic sector.
Martyn Bragg of Shillingford Organics. It has been named producer of the UK’s best organic veg box
Shillingford Organics near Exeter was named winner for Best Box Scheme and Eversfield Organic, near Okehampton won Best New Product for its Roam and Relish organic pastrami. It was also shortlisted for its paleo diet meat box.
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Luscombe Drinks, near Buckfastleigh was shortlisted for its Devon Cider, Raspberry Crush and Matcha Green Tea and Clive’s Pies in Buckfastleigh was shortlisted for its nut roast and saag aloo curry.
Mark Bury with his son Hamish and daughter Anna. Eversfield Organic’s Roam and Relish pastrami was named the winner of the UK’s best new organic product.
Mr Watson, a self-confessed ‘veg nerd’ said of the win: “I am extremely proud of Riverford and how we have proved that you can be an innovative, commercially successful business while never compromising on our founding values and principles of treating the environment, staff and customers with respect.”
Guy wore a t-shirt that said ‘Make Trouble – Question Everything’ – a statement that sums up his approach to ethical farming and running an ethical business.
He is known for being an outspoken advocate of organic principles and a video in which he takes on ‘Big Agriculture’ has gone viral with nearly five million views.
Earlier this year, he challenged farmers to re-evaluate whose advice they take at the Oxford Farming Conference and he stays ahead of the game with the launch of new products like recipe boxes to better suit changing lifestyles.
The award comes as Riverford celebrates its 30th year.
Next year will see the business move into employee ownership, as Mr Watson said he does not believe in inherited wealth.
Speaking earlier this year, the businessman – who employs more than 500 staff at the farm near Staverton in South Devon and at sister sites in Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire – said that the move makes good business sense with happier engaged staff and tax benefits.
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He has been considering the move for around ten years and first consulted with Sir Stuart Hampson, former chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, in 2005.
Now the farm and internet retail business is well past the 2008 recession, Mr Watson said it was the right time to go ahead.
He said: “We are ten years on, more people have gone employee owned, they have ironed out problems and the pitfalls are now better documented plus we have matured as an organisation. The main benefits is better engagement and performance from staff.
“People work best when they feel good about themselves. It’s just an obvious truth when you think about it plus it’s very tax efficient.”
A minimum of 51 per cent will be sold at a below market rate and held in an employee owned trust – so staff have the controlling stake.
Mr Watson will hold onto 25 per cent with the decision on the remaining 25 per cent yet to be made.
Claire McDermott, Business Development Director of the Soil Association said that Mr Watson had brought innovation from the very start.
“He continues to do so today, setting an example and lead across the industry that we all aspire to”, she said.
Source: Devon live