Via American Public Television
American Public Television recently interviewed Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, a black farmer in the U.K. and the creator of the new documentary series YOUNG BLACK FARMERS (winner of the best unscripted entertainment program at the 2006 Banff World Television Festival). Emmanuel-Jones founded a scholarship that provided urban black youths an opportunity to live and work in rural England.
How did you come up with this project, a farming scholarship for urban black youths?
Well, in the U.K., when a lot of the immigrants came to this country in the ’50s, it’s well documented that they had problems being accepted. A lot of the black and Asian communities actually formed ghettos. The feeling among those communities was that they couldn’t leave, because if they did, they wouldn’t be accepted. I believed that rather than Asian and black communities feeling that these neighborhoods were the only part of Britain available to them, they should actually tap into the entrepreneurial spirit that their parents had by coming to the country in the first place: break out of these ghettos and claim the rest of Britain as their own. I thought it was quite important to give young people the opportunity to experience what living and working in rural Britain is all about. That’s the reason I wanted to do the scholarship.
Why did you feel the need to come up with this scholarship?
Rather than these kids coming into the area as tourists, the whole idea about the scholarship was to get these kids to have a hands-on experience – really to do the sort of stuff and experience the type of things they would have to go through if they lived in rural Britain. Also, it’s to give these kids an opportunity to adhere to the disciplines of rural living. When you have animals to look after, cereals to harvest and grass to cut, you really are dictated by the seasons. In urban living, people don’t need to be that sort of responsible. There are always different agencies that are gonna look after all your needs. [In the countryside], if you have a cow stuck in a ditch, there is no “999” to call. All you have is yourself and your neighbors to help get that problem sorted out. So [the scholarship] teaches people how to be more self reliant rather than being spoiled by urban living.
Tell us about the people in your community and how they felt about this scholarship and the subsequent filming of a television series.
When I decided to buy a farm down in the West Country, I was the first black person any of them actually had ever seen, let alone spoken to. They were very supportive towards me. And, I could not have even contemplated going into farming if they weren’t generous with all their time and attention. I have to be very grateful to my neighbors who coined me “The Black Farmer.” That’s when I then came up with the name for my brand. (I have my products under “The Black Farmer” brand.) And, when I started talking about doing a scholarship like this, people were a bit apprehensive because most of them had never met black people en masse. It was something I was determined to do, not only for the good of the people of urban communities, but also for people of my local community. [My neighbors needed] to see that there’s nothing to be fearful of. Also, there are things that these youngsters could teach them and things they could teach the youngsters.
And the television portion of the scholarship? How did that come into play?
Well, when I decided to launch the scholarship, I launched it with a couple of the national newspapers. It’s quite fascinating – the following day, nearly every single production company in this country got in touch with me to actually follow the progress of the scholarship.
What was it like to have cameras following you and the participants around the farm on a regular basis?
I didn’t have a problem with it. They had about three cameras filming every single thing these darn kids got up to. I thought it was quite important for this scholarship to be documented. I mean, I think you’ll see from this documentary that there’s no holds barred. What you see is actually what it was like. I believe it is refreshing television because it’s not a format. It isn’t people going on there to become stars. It really is following people as they experience something they would never have dreamt they would go through.
What is your hope with the future of black farmers in the United Kingdom?
My hope is that black people don’t see [rural] Britain as a “no go” area. It would be a travesty if – some 50 years since our parents came into this country – they still felt that parts of England were a “no go” area to them. The irony is that a lot of immigrants, most of the immigrants that came to this country in the ’50s, would have come from rural backgrounds. But, because all the work was in the cities, that’s where they ended up. Actually, there is a natural affinity for many people, especially from the Caribbean, to be working the land. For example, where I was born in Jamaica, a place called Clarendon, it’s very much sub-system farmers who enjoy working the land. So, it’s an opportunity for the second and third generation to reconnect themselves with the land.
This program was filmed a year ago. What is happening with some of the kids who worked on your farm? Do you stay in touch with them?
I do, yes. One participant is now one of the first black guys to ever attend the Duchy Agricultural College and is doing very, very well. And, another two work for me. The whole idea behind the scholarship was to get kids who were failing in urban Britain – or somehow urban Britain had failed them – and see whether rural Britain could offer them things that urban Britain couldn’t.
What are your plans for the future? Do you want to do another scholarship?
Well, I want to run an annual scholarship. And, as I said earlier on, I’m really interested in getting this [program] spread internationally to see whether kids from other urban environments, that being the States or Australia, could actually discover interesting things about themselves by coming on “The Black Farmer” scholarship. It’s all about “tough-love.” It’s all about taking away the safety net they are very used to in life. They have to really tap into their own personal courage. And from that, they could then go away with lessons they learned about themselves. Also, they could see that they could achieve anything if they put their minds to it.
YOUNG BLACK FARMERS (3 x 50) is available exclusively via APT Syndication. To add-on to the contract, please contact Loretta Davidson at (617) 338-4455 x124.