WILFRED EMMANUEL-JONES isn’t just any black farmer, he is The Black Farmer.
Born in Clarendon, Jamaica, Emmanuel-Jones came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation.
While he’d spent the first few years of his life in rural Jamaica, Emmanuel-Jones’ first farming encounter was hands-on, cultivating an allotment his father had in Small Heath in Birmingham, where his family settled once they arrived in England.
It was this experience that first ignited Emmanuel-Jones’ desire to one day own his own farm.
“Because we were quite poor, there were 11 of us in my family, my father had an allotment and it was my job as the oldest boy to look after this allotment.
“It shouldn’t be that you’ve got to be rich in order to actually get access to land”
“I loved it so much. It was then when I was around the age of 11, that I decided that one day I would like to have my own farm,” he says.
But it wouldn’t be until 35 years later that he was able to realise this dream. Something Emmanuel-Jones only managed because he was able to earn enough money to do so.
And while his rags-to-riches success story is inspirational, he doesn’t want other black people to face the same barriers he did.
He is calling on institutions that own land, such as the Church and universities to actively facilitate the process to enable more black and minority ethnic people to get access to farming land.
“I’m saying to all of these institutions part of your social responsibility is to say to your land agents; a certain percentage – let’s say 10 per cent of the land you’re managing for us should be leased to or rented out to people from diverse communities… it shouldn’t be that you’ve got to be rich in order to actually get access to land,” he says.
Raising the money to purchase land isn’t the only obstacle aspiring black farmers face in Britain. Operating in a sector dominated by white people, Emmanuel-Jones was confronted with concerns from his family members when they heard about his plans to plant roots in Devon, and he says locals suspected he was secretly growing cannabis.
“The moment you operate outside a stereotype, it confuses people. They think there’s some sort of negative motive behind it and I’ve always been of the belief that the key thing in life is not to be distracted by other people’s prejudices or other people’s concerns,” he says. “If I ever stopped and thought about what people thought, I would still be in Small Heath in Birmingham.”
Emmanuel-Jones doesn’t mince his words. It’s this ambitious attitude combined with his independence that saw him take on the major supermarkets, challenging them to stock his new range of sausages for Black History Month.
The range of jerk pork and chicken sausages feature the faces of inspiring figures from British black history. One pack features nurse Mary Seacole, the others feature first world war veteran and civil rights campaigner George Arthur Roberts and Lincoln Orville Lynch, a distinguished RAF air gunner who served in the Second World War.
“This year I wrote to all of the big chief executives and all the big supermarkets and said, ‘this is the time that you lot need to do something to demonstrate that you are supporting the change. You have black customers shopping in your supermarkets, we want to demonstrate that actually you care about their pound as much as you care about somebody else’s’,” he says.
“What we as black people have to come to terms with is that we have power and we should be utilising that power a lot more”
Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose, Budgen’s and Ocado all agreed to stock the special sausages.
By nature of the product, the sausages have been placed in aisles where they are likely to be seen by a cross-section of supermarket shoppers, not just those interested in Caribbean produce. Emmanuel-Jones’ says he always intended to steer away from creating products that would be deemed “ethnic”.
“I do not want to be categorised as an ‘ethnic’ brand because what happens is that you get stuck down in the bottom shelf…I said the first thing I want to do is I want to be a mainstream British brand – that in itself is a big challenge.”
For black entrepreneurs wanting to follow in his footsteps, he has this to say: “Stop waiting for permission. Stop waiting to be accepted, it ain’t going to happen.”
He adds that he wants people to realise that there is no helping hand when it comes to bringing about the change that is needed – but he believes there is untapped potential within the black community.
“What I think is that we as black people have to come to terms with is that we have power and we should be utilising that power a lot more than we have done in the past,” he says.
Today Emmanuel-Jones describes himself as a gentleman farmer, not spending his time getting muddy in fields but building his Black Farmer brand.
His new ventures include the launch of a new Black Farmer online shop, something he says was spurred on by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The reason why it’s the right time to do direct-to-consumer is because of COVID. Before COVID getting fresh food to people’s house was really difficult because they weren’t in, they were at work or out and about,” Emmanuel-Jones says.
And while the online grocery service opens up his products to a new market, he’d like to see the black community support it. “It’s really tough in an online business and what I would like is to get a lot of support from the black community because that is how these things succeed.”
Emmanuel-Jones’ hopes to expand don’t stop there. He has a physical flagship farm shop in his sights.
“My ultimate ambition is, in the next two years, to have a Black Farmer bricks and mortar farm shop…there’ll be restaurants, cookery schools, there’ll be an academy. It’ll be a destination site that anybody going down to the southwest will say: ‘I must stop off at The Black Farmer’.”
Stop off at The Black Farmer’s virtual shop at theblackfarmer.com
This article appeared in The Voice Black Business Guide 2020-21. To read the publication and discover more black-owned businesses, click here.