Personal Column: A black farmer's story

Inner-city boy Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones wants his farm to help more black teenagers move to the country
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The Independent Online

When I moved to live in the Devon countryside I felt, spiritually, like I had come home. I was born in Jamaica but grew up with eight brothers and sisters three to a bed in a small terraced house in Birmingham. I felt I had come full circle.

Of course, everybody thought I was totally crazy. I was the first black person many of the locals had seen. My friends said: "Don't they lynch niggers there?"

They regarded people in that part of the world as backward, which is just a kind of reverse racism. But when you've come from where I've come from in life - the bottom of society's shit heap - you're not frightened of anything.

The farm I bought had been in the same family for 200 years and had no running water. It was the beginning of the crisis in farming and the owner was grateful for anyone to buy it, he didn't care what colour I was. This was the power of the dream. It was something I had carried inside me since I was 12 years old: one day I will own my own part of Britain. And nothing was going to get in my way.

The locals assumed I was a property developer. They couldn't see why anybody in their right mind would want to live in a depressed part of the country and work in farming. The best thing I did was employ locals, I gave quite a lot of them work; these people have generations of experience and you'd be mad not to tap into it.

I never experienced racism, but some people had strong views about me. I say what I think and I'm pretty tough. They had a mañana approach: I want things done now and I don't care who I upset. I'm sure there were a few people muttering "black bastard" under their breath. But mostly they were intrigued. Being black in this country has been a burden ever since we arrived. But there is more prejudice in the city than in rural communities - at least in mine.

At school I was difficult and disruptive. Now we understand what dyslexia is, and that's what I had, but then I was just a teacher's nightmare. I left school with no qualifications and the only thing available to me was the Army, but I was kicked out after a year.

I was so lucky to have people who looked after me, and that has been the greatest motivation in everything I've done. When I ran my marketing company, I always employed people who were gagging for a break, like I had been. They might not have had the right qualifications, but they were determined. The greatest gift you can give someone is opportunity. That's why I decided to start the scholarship for young black people who had been failed by the cities. I wanted kids who were as difficult as I was, who needed some tough love and discipline.

I wanted them to have hands-on experience of the countryside. Whether you are black or white you are treated very differently as a tourist than if you get involved with local people and businesses. Some of them become brilliant at mastering how to manipulate the guilt of the white, liberal community. White liberals tend to be afraid of offending, and help to create a victim culture, not helping people to access their inner strength and achieve what they're capable of.

A lot of the students spent their time trying to find points of weakness, and it was crucial that I kept control. Two girls left after a big showdown. They couldn't take sleeping outside in tents and getting up at 3am to milk cows which I set them as punishment when they pissed about. Another one I chucked out was bringing in the ghetto mentality, challenging me. I would not tolerate it. He was shocked when I told him to leave.

When they arrived they were seeing racism everywhere. I got them to talk to the locals, and then they found that they were really friendly. These people really cared for them and were protective of them, and that surprised them a lot. They were able to see people as individuals instead of castigating a whole section of society.

After five weeks here one student became the first black guy to study agriculture at Duchy College. We're still in touch. The only thing you can do is give people the opportunity: it's up to them what they do with it.

I'm going to do the scholarship again in October and I'm struggling and pleading for funding. I am also now the Tory candidate for Chippenham, which is great because it is real, true blue Tory land, real Middle England. It came down to a choice between me and a die-hard Eton and Oxford Tory. When they chose me it was a big shock. There are not many black people in Chippenham, and I think they were going for the future.

I'm not a token black candidate. Tokenism tends to be about people they can control - a friendly nigger who won't ruffle feathers. But I'm my own man, and they know that. I can spot a token black person a mile off. I am the risky choice.

I have always had a sense of trying to pay back, and so I have a real passion about politics. I don't want to sound all holy because I'm not, but it was people who put themselves out on a limb who made me who I am today. That's how I measure my worth: trying to help other people achieve their dreams. The greatest thing is being able to give back.

'Young Black Farmers' is on Channel 4 today at 8pm. Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones was speaking to Katy Guest