Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones speaks to Country Living about racism and rural life – asserting the countryside is a lot more open minded than people give it credit.
“Tending to my father’s allotment in Birmingham aged 11, I made a promise to myself that I’d own a farm one day. To me, that small green patch was an oasis and an opportunity to escape from the cramped two-up, two-down terraced house I shared with my family of 11.
It took 30 years of hard graft – from leaving school aged 16, to the army, to a career with the BBC and starting my own marketing agency – but in 1999 I moved to Devon to become a farmer. As a child of the Windrush generation, it means something to own land. It’s a stake in the ground and a statement of belonging: I'm not temporary.
Still, my urban friends thought I was nuts moving here. A lot of Black Brits feel that the countryside is not for them. They think they’ll be disapproved of, told they don't belong. They worry they’ll be stared at, and they may be right. But having lived in Devon for over 20 years, I know that if any face is unfamiliar, whether black or white, people will be curious.
When I first arrived, I certainly stood out at agricultural shows and many people thought it was polite to use the word ‘coloured’. But the allegedly backward corners of rural Britain are a lot more open minded than people give them credit for. Perhaps even more than the cities where the criticism comes from. Racism in the city is more sophisticated. Black populations may be higher but walk into an office and it will be a sea of white faces.
I feel far more secure in rural Britain than I ever did growing up in Birmingham. As a kid, I was always looking over my shoulder. Here, we’re a community and we look out for one another. It’s nice that people say good morning – and I absolutely love Morris dancing.
Black people are often stereotyped – but why shouldn’t I enjoy Morris dancing? I wanted to create a business that could bridge the gap between urban and rural, so chose to produce a quintessentially English product – the good old-fashioned sausage. I named my brand The Black Farmer, which caused controversy. I live in a part of the world where people aren’t sure what’s politically correct and the name provokes a dialogue, which I think is powerful.
Today, my sausages are stocked in Sainsburys, Asda, Tesco and Ocado. We’ve even expanded into turkey and eggs and during lockdown I’ve been working on the launch of an online farm shop, which opens on 1st August. I think The Black Farmer is a powerful statement. Through it, I’m demonstrating that the industry isn’t just for the white middle-classes.
When we talk about diversity, it tends to be focused on the urban, but what about Black people in rural settings? It’s 2020 and I’m one of the only commercial Black farmers in Britain. That is a travesty. I want to see more people of colour join the agricultural community.
How do we do that? I think it’s time we made the industry more rock'n'roll. Before celebrity chef culture, catering was not a desirable profession. But thanks to Gordon and Jamie, it became glamorous. We need to do the same thing with farming. We need personalities to challenge the misconception that it’s a boring industry, because it’s not.
Another issue is most farmers inherit their land – so, anyone from the outside trying to get in is handicapped to start off with. That’s why I’m calling on landowners to do their bit to promote rural diversity.
The Government, Ministry of Defence, Church of England and National Trust all own vast swathes of land and could be doing a lot more to welcome Black people to the countryside, offering them the opportunity to come and farm. For many years, I ran a scholarship scheme for kids from urban areas to experience life in rural Britain. I want more organisations to offer these schemes.
These gatekeepers of pastoral Britain have the power to make a difference and it’s time they were challenged to do so. I hope to see more Black people stake their claim in the British countryside very soon.”
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like