Symbol of change

Words: Alex Denman   Photography by Steve Ryan

Symbol of change

Riverford is now employee owned


If Riverford were a state in need of a symbolic national plant, the cardoon might well fit the bill. The plant is hardy, perennial and thoroughly unconventional.

A fitting icon for a company that as of Friday 8th of June 2018, transferred 74% ownership to employees at the request of founder, Guy Singh-Watson.

Guy has been doing things his own way since converting his first field to organic in 1987, and after 12 years of thought, debate and prevarication the deal has now been done. From Monday 11th of June, there will be 650 co-owners of the business. It’s his vision that the new structure will lead to a kinder, more creative, more thoughtful and more productive environment. Guy will retain 26% and a very active role, while the business has been sold to staff for less than a third of its market value.

“I want to be part of an organisation that helps us be the best version of ourselves - that facilitates and grows people, rather than undermining their humanity by appealing to ignoble sentiments, as capitalism too often does,” he says.

This means ignoring the usual trajectory of UK businesses that build up a profitable operation and then flog to the highest bidder, with a pat on the back from HMRC. It wasn’t so long ago that another notable vegetable business did just this, netting its founder tens of millions of pounds by some estimates.

So would Guy ride off into the sunset with pockets bulging? Retire to the Maldives and surf perfect barrels every day? Tempting, but not his style. Better to embed the changes he wants to see in everyday life through the business. He quotes Ghandi to help explain:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change...We need not wait to see what others do”.

Time may prove him hopelessly idealistic, but Guy reports he has already seen a “more inclusive, human style of management, and it feels as if an oppressive cloud is already lifting and a new dawn, full of exciting possibility, is revealing itself”.

The model of employee ownership for Riverford has been guided by those who helped engineer the John Lewis Partnership, and will be measurable against a set of values and wishes that have been co-written by Riverford employees and management.

You can read more about Riverford’s change to Employee Ownership and Guy’s ‘Founder’s Wishes’ statement on the Riverford website.

Cheers Guy - we couldn’t be prouder. Long may the cardoons and Riverford keep growing.


Try award-winning organic produce delivered to your door

Riverford Organic Farmers deliver boxes of organic fruit and veg, meat, dairy and much more in London and all over the UK. Choose a seasonal Veg Box, design your own or go for a Recipe Box, which will arrive with all the ingredients you need to make delicious recipes like this one in your own kitchen. Visit the website or call 01803 227227 to give a veg box a try!

Cardoon gratin

Cardoons taste like a cross between celery and artichoke heart with a little bitterness thrown in for good measure. Serve this creamy, cheesy gratin golden and bubbling from the oven as a vegetarian main with grains or crusty bread and salad.



700g cardoons, thoroughly washed
2 medium potatoes
150g Parmesan, grated
2 garlic cloves, chopped
250ml double cream
100ml whole milk
50g bread crumbs



1. Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

2. Peel the fibrous ribs away from the cardoons using a knife or a peeler, then put into acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon) to stop them browning.

3. Chop into 1cm crescents. Boil in plenty of acidulated, salted water for 5-10 minutes to tenderise and reduce the bitterness. Drain and refresh under cold water.

4. Cut the potatoes into 1cm batons.

5. Butter a gratin dish and fill with the cardoons and potato, 100g Parmesan, garlic cloves, double cream and whole milk. Top with a mixture of bread crumbs and the remaining 50g Parmesan.

6. Bake in oven for about 40 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the top has browned.