Guy Watson, farmer and founder of the award-winning Riverford, ponders the merits of starting small.
Observing my parents was a big influence on me. My dad believed that anyone could do anything if they tried hard enough and had the right attitude. We were brought up with the idea that you should look to do something that’s actually useful which, for us, was food and farming. My mum was also a fantastic cook, so I guess the combination of how food was produced and then shared was a very formative influence.
I wasn’t on any great ideological mission when I started Riverford; the mission has developed over 30 years of actually getting out there and doing it. I started on about three acres the first year on my parents’ farm, about 15 the second and 30 in the third. I was able to take on more land until it started getting too big, and I went to buy the neighbouring farm. Being able to grow in that incremental way was very useful.
The first person you need to understand is yourself. Figure out what your motivations are, what makes you happy, what winds you up, what you’re good at and what your weaknesses are. Appreciating those and getting people around you who can complement your skills is crucial. Actually, as time goes on, that becomes a responsibility because you won’t be much use to those around you unless you come to terms with yourself
Is there anything I would change? Well, it would have been nice to be based on some flat, sandy soil rather than on the side of a Devon hillside! But having said that, it was wonderful to be able to start on my parents’ farm.
What would I say to someone who is just starting out? It can be a tough world, so know your industry and where you can be competitive. I think that if you start on a small scale, try to really get to know your customer. Making mistakes and getting your product right is an important part of it. It’s quite an exciting time for food and farming; we’ve had a bit of a renaissance in our food culture in the UK, which is becoming quite widespread. I think that presents a lot of wonderful opportunities.