After emigrating from Jamaica to Britain with the Windrush Generation, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones made it his mission to move to the countryside and run his own farm. He tells James Fisher about his journey.
To see photographs of Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones standing on his farm, surrounded on all sides by green grass and the rolling hills of the West Country, is to take a journey into an idyll of which many of us dream.
Mr Emmanuel-Jones’s journey was longer than most, having begun in Jamaica, where he was born, before his family emigrated to Birmingham — he is, as he says, firmly part of the Windrush Generation.
‘We were very poor,’ he tells me. ‘There were 11 of us in a two-up, two-down terraced house. My sanctuary was my father’s allotment and it was being in that environment that made me realise that I wanted my own farm. Your soul, your spirit is free when all you have to do is admire the countryside and Nature, rather than in an urban setting, where if you look at someone the wrong way you could get a knife in your back.
‘The birds and the bees, that’s what I loved aged 11. In my life, everything I did, I did to get my hands on a small farm.’
And get his hands on a small farm he did — but it wasn’t easy.
‘Most farms have been handed down, so if you’re an immigrant, it’s very difficult,’ he says. ‘To get a foothold into the British countryside is very very difficult. I’ve only got 30 acres, which in a farming scheme is basically nothing.’
“If there’s anything good from Covid-19, it’s that people now know where their food comes from”
He says that, in England, it can be difficult to feel as if you belong until you own land and that ‘you don’t feel like an immigrant once you can pace the land you can physically own’.
Now he has his piece, he wants to help others get theirs. ‘I’ve been campaigning,’ he says. ‘What can we do to encourage more people from black backgrounds to get into rural Britain? There’s a vast amount of land owned by large institutions. It’s rented or leased out to old families, most of the time.
‘The challenge to these landowners is this. You can encourage diversity by saying a percentage of land should be leased to those from diverse backgrounds.’ Not diversity for diversity’s sake, he adds, but a diversity in food production, from people from diverse backgrounds, is vital.
I ask him about his experience of the countryside as a black man and he’s quick to answer my real question before I’ve even asked it.
‘There is this massive assumption that rural Britain is racist or prejudiced,’ he says.
‘In my experience, rural Britain is not racist. I find more racism in the cities than in rural Britain and I think it’s unfair what people say about the countryside.’ What he does say is that it’s different — different in the sense that people who aren’t from rural communities stick out, ‘regardless of colour’.
The Black Farmer isn’t only Mr Emmanuel-Jones’s brand, it’s also who he is and it’s a name that he advertises with pride.
‘In a sense, by having The Black Farmer, it gives people permission to use that word,’ he says. ‘I want the brand to make people feel comfortable using that word and to see that it’s a British brand. Everything about the brand celebrates my black Britishness, not my ethnic blackness. The products are quintessentially British.’
He wants to bridge a gap between rural and urban Britain and to show people that the countryside can be as diverse as it wants to be. ‘It’s up to us, people of colour, to claim our right to be there, rather than be invited.’
“The countryside a place where your human spirit can do what it wants, which is to be nice and courteous to people”
Mr Emmanuel-Jones is a true British eccentric — he loves his flamenco, as well as his morris dancing and anything that goes against the stereotype. ‘You find that a lot more in rural Britian than urban Britain,’ he says. ‘People celebrate their eccentricities.’
I wonder about his plans for the future and what he hopes to achieve with The Black Farmer, which recently opened an online farm shop.
‘I want to become a destination, similar to Rick Stein in Padstow,’ he says. ‘The first stage was launching the farm shop online, celebrating products from the South-West — not only our products.
‘We know down here that we produce amazing food. If there’s anything good from Covid-19, it’s that people now know where their food comes from.’
What is it that he loves about the countryside, now that he lives there?
‘It’s the politeness, the courtesy that people have towards each other, that’s what makes life worth living. That is what is magical. It’s a place where your human spirit can do what it wants, which is to be nice and courteous to people. I hope to God it stays that way!’
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones farm shop is online at www.theblackfarmer.com/shop.