Meet Britain's only black farmer

Who says the English countryside is for whites only? Not Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, who tells Sholto Byrnes why he moved to Devon, and how he helps City kids get out of the ghetto

Sunday 06 November 2005 01:00 GMT

Mr Emmanuel-Jones was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year at the Black Enterprise Awards, and his products took gold and silver prizes at the regional Taste of the West awards, only one year after he started his firm.

Soon, however, the Jamaican immigrant, Tory candidate and scourge of the race relations industry will reach a wider audience. Early next year Channel 4 is to broadcast Young Black Farmers, a series about Mr Emmanuel-Jones's Black Farmer Scholarship programme, in which nine black and Asian teenagers from inner-city backgrounds spend six weeks learning to rise at dawn, cope without television and perform such essential rural tasks as bullock castration.

"The idea was to get black people from the cities to experience what it's like to live in rural Britain," says Mr Emmanuel-Jones, 47. He bought the 30-acre farm eight years ago with the money he had made from his marketing firm. "I wanted to get kids who had been failed by the cities to see that rural Britain could offer something the cities couldn't." The teenagers had to participate in every activity, from selling produce to artificially inseminating cattle. There was, he admits, a lot of "pain" and "tough love". "All of these kids were from single-parent families. They had been left to run riot, they knew how to manipulate the system. They could smell that white liberal Britain was afraid of saying the wrong thing," he says.

To begin with, the participants were very aware of being the only non-white faces in the area. "When they arrived they were seeing racism everywhere because they were so attuned to it. If someone looked at them, they'd say 'he's being racist'. But after a while they could see that people were being really friendly to them. It gave them a different idea of what rural Britain is actually about."

Mr Emmanuel-Jones kicked one participant out after a week: "He was bringing the attitude of the ghetto on to the farm, bigging me up, being challenging." Two of the girls left after finding the discipline too harsh. The other six, he says, were "brilliant", and two of the group are now working for his company.

His plan to claim the countryside for non-white Britons was given added impetus after he publicly disagreed with Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, last year over his claims that blacks and Asians were not welcome outside the cities.

"Our parents came to this country and formed beachheads from the racism in what are now the urban ghettos. That's where they could find peace," says Mr Emmanuel-Jones, who was born in Jamaica and came to Britain with his family when he was three. "To a certain extent they and their offspring are now trapped in these ghettos, and it's the responsibility of the second and third generations to break out. The reality for most black people is that this is home, so they shouldn't think that only the urban parts are available to them."

The Black Farmer himself never saw the countryside until he was 18. One of nine children, he grew up in a two-up, two-down in the deprived Small Heath area of Birmingham. Instructed by his factory-worker father to tend the family's allotment, the young Wilfred at first hated having to pick frozen Brussel sprouts in winter. "But by the time I was 12 or so, I loved being in that open space," he says, "because the rest of my life was in a concrete jungle. I made a promise to myself that one day I would own my part of England."

Leaving school without qualifications, he was briefly in the Army before going into catering. After being taken on as a researcher for BBC food programmes, Mr Emmanuel-Jones went on to work on the Food and Drink show for 10 years. He left to run his own company, helping brand products including Loyd Grossman's sauces, Kettle Chips and Plymouth Gin.

In 1997 he finally kept that promise to himself and bought his farm. He, his wife and their three children divide their time between Devon and a London home. "This is my country and I belong here," he says. "Buying land is a real statement of intent." He wants more black Britons to buy such stakes in the countryside. "It would be a travesty if in 10 years' time I'm still the only black farmer," he says.

Mr Emmanuel-Jones contrasts his approach with that pursued by Mr Phillips. "What happens with Trevor and those who have made their living out of the black plight," he says, "is that they articulate the theory and then that's it. They're making a very good living out of chatting about the theory - but has there been a change? I'm not seeing the change. All this talk does is fuel black people's anxiety about being trapped."

Mr Emmanuel-Jones takes a different attitude. He says he told the kids that this was their country: "Make that switch and make it work for you." He says: "Once you've done that you don't have that negative attitude of 'I'm disadvantaged'."

Although Mr Emmanuel-Jones is on the Tory candidates' list, he is unimpressed by the tokenism of some black Conservatives. "They're like white guys dressed in drag," he says. "I go as I am, and people can smell the truth."

Although he initially supported Ken Clarke, he will now be voting for David Cameron as Tory leader. "There's a massive opportunity for the party to change," he says, "by actually having real people."

As for him, he'd be content to be party chairman one day. "It's all about black people being part of the mainstream," he says. "Anything to counter the stereotypes."

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