Simon de Bruxelles, Times (London), May 21
Eight black and Asian teenagers arrive at a Devon farm next month to learn to live off the land. For some of them it will be the first time that they see a cow, or stand in a field out of earshot of traffic.
They are the first beneficiaries of an annual scholarship set up by Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, Britain’s only black farmer. At the end of their two-month stay, during which they will be taught to ride, shoot, fish and grow their own food, two of them will be given jobs on the farm.
Looking out across the fields towards the Devon-Cornwall border, Mr Emmanuel-Jones says he feels like a pioneer. He grew up in Small Heath, Birmingham, and made a lot of money in television and marketing. But farming was always his dream.
He said: “The fact I’m here is testimony to the power of dreams. I grew up in a family of eleven sharing three to a bed. When I was a kid the only time I felt real freedom was on my father’s allotment and I always told myself that one day I would have my own land.
“Many immigrants arrived in this country from poor rural backgrounds and have farming in their DNA, yet they settled in the inner cities where the jobs were. I feel it is the duty of second and third-generation immigrants to break out from the ghetto.
“Owning land is a real statement that you have arrived and intend to stay. It doesn’t matter how big your house is or how plush your apartment, it is land that’s important.”
Next week Mr Emmanuel-Jones, 48, will choose the eight recipients of his scholarships from several hundred young people who applied. The vegetable plots where they will have their first taste of country life were being prepared by local volunteers yesterday.
The teenagers will rise at dawn, eat nothing but food produced on the farm and will not be able to watch television, even if they can keep their eyes open. Among their tasks will be buying and looking after cattle and sheep, draining a swampy field and tending vegetables.
Mr Emmanuel-Jones came up with the idea after a very public disagreement with Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, who said that black and Asian people felt unwelcome if they ventured out of the cities.
Mr Emmanuel-Jones said: “It’s totally untrue that there are large parts of Britain that are off-limits to black people, it’s just a question of getting out there and finding what this country has to offer.”
Since he bought his 30-acre farm eight years ago, he says he has had nothing but support from his neighbours. Most of them know him as the Black Farmer, which is why he decided to use the name for his recently launched range of sausages and sauces.
As a former producer on the BBC Food and Drink programme who worked with chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Antony Worrall Thompson, as well as owning a specialist food marketing company, Mr Emmanuel-Jones knew the food business. But of farming he had not a clue.
He said: “If it weren’t for the help of my neighbours I would not have been able to survive as a farmer. They have taught me just about everything I know. They still won’t let me buy livestock at market on my own. They think anyone who wants to be a farmer these days must be crazy, and if you’re a black man who wants to be a farmer, then you must be even crazier.
“Personally I have not experienced any racism at all. But if you object to being called ‘coloured’ instead of black because it’s not politically correct, then don’t even bother putting your wellingtons on.”
He hopes to pass on some of his enthusiasm to his students. He said: “Perhaps I will have planted a seed that will grow, like the dream I had. If in 15 years’ time I am still Britain’s only black farmer then it will be very sad.”