AWARD-WINNING Riverford Organic Farmers is celebrating its tenth anniversary in the North of England and 30 years in the UK by announcing it will become employee-owned by 2018.

Peter Richardson, of Home Farm, Newby Wiske, near Northallerton, is one of four Riverford farms countrywide, which produce and deliver organic vegetable boxes to more than 47,000 homes each week.

The farms hosted a Flavour Tour of Master Veg cookery classes, tastings and two exclusive feasts for customers this week, demonstrating how to turn a box of veg into an organic feast.

Mr Richardson, whose family has farmed Home Farm for three generations, converted his land to organic in 1996, setting up the veg box scheme with Riverford in 2007.

The farm employs 20 staff and is supported by other local organic farmers to offer a wide variety of produce to customers throughout Yorkshire and the North.

Riverford Organic Farmers was founded by Guy Watson in Devon in 1987 who grew veg on the family farm to deliver to just 30 customers out of the back of his 2CV.

Riverford’s efforts to minimise its environmental impact by minimising food waste, minimising and recycling packaging, and paying close attention to every aspect of their carbon footprint – has since been recognised by The Observer, which named its veg box as the Ethical Product of the Decade.

Following investment in green energy, the farms are all self-sufficient. Guy Watson has twice been voted BBC Farmer of the Year and this year was awarded Best Organic Farmer of the Year and Organic Market Innovator of the Year at the Soil Association’s Best of Organic Market Awards.

He said: “We choose the varieties we grow for flavour rather than yield or cosmetic perfection and think our veg is so good it deserves to be shouted about.

“Our 30th birthday felt like a great chance to do this.

“Our ongoing mission to lead the way in vegetables, challenging industry norms and getting as many as possible to live life on the veg continues unabated, but then we have always done business a little differently.

“Despite our impressive growth over the past 30 years, we’re not here for profit.

“I have had dozens of offers to buy out the business, but will never do so and instead it will become employee-owned by 2018.

“Selling to venture capitalists would mean turning Riverford into an enterprise driven purely by the bottom line; that’s not what we’re about.

“I started the business to produce something useful to the world, so to protect our model of sustainable large-scale food production, the staff will soon own the majority instead.

“It’s an exciting time and a big change. Employee ownership will not guarantee enlightened management, devolved decision making and more innovation, but we are hoping, with thought, coaching, nudging and the normal navel gazing, it will be the catalyst for an accelerated transition in that direction.”