Welcome to this special short episode of Faremerama, featuring a conversation about the jumping fences report. Jumping fences shares the findings of research into the experiences of Black people and people of colour or BPOC in the UK’s farming and land-based sectors. The research is about identifying the kinds of barriers that BPOC face when they’re considering a land-based livelihood or trying to make a living on the land. The report maps both existing and prospective BPOC led, land-based businesses and organisations, as well as the challenges they’ve encountered and the ways they’re trying to overcome those challenges. Jumping fences is a collaboration between Land imn Our Names, the Ecological Land Cooperative, and the Landworkers Alliance. And it builds on earlier research that was shared in a report called Rootz into Food Growing. The jumping fences report was launched earlier this year at the Oxford Real farming conference. Right after the launch, I sat down in quite a noisy lobby with jumping fences lead researcher and two of the people she interviewed for the Report.
I’m Naomi Terry, I’ve been the lead researcher on the Jumping Fences project, which has been a really a real privilege to work on for the past nine months meeting different BPOC farmers around Britain. And today we have just launched the report. And we just had a really beautiful session an absolutely full room full of people that were really they’re really present to get into the depths of racial justice and farming in this country.
My name is Flavian Obiero, I’m a pig farmer, based in Hampshire. I’m here for the first time ORFC to talk through the jumping fences report and give my view on what I think can be done to improve diversity in the countryside and agriculture and access for BPOC communities in the British countryside.
Hi, I’m Cel Robertson, and I’m a cut flower farmer based up in North Norfolk, I was one of the growers who was interviewed for the jumping fences report.
So jumping fences is a project that was dreamt up by LION and ELC, a few years ago now basically responding to the lack of racial diversity in British farming, and also the lack of evidence and research that exists around that issue. There’s a lot of acknowledgment that farming is the least diverse sector in the UK, but very little knowledge around what are the experiences of Black people and people of colour in this country that are currently working in farming. And in fact, who are they. So I’ve been working on the research phase of this project, which is the first year, and the second year is going to go into more into building strategy and thinking okay, now we have this evidence we have these stories, but what are we going to do about it? And when I say we, there’s all different kinds of levels to that.
Naomi, we came to the farm and interviewed me, because it’s something that I’ve, especially the last few years will be two or three years, have been pushing to try and improve diversity in farming. It’s something that I felt that I could contribute a lot to. And because I’m more on the commercial side, it’s completely different space to things like ELC. And you got completely different challenges. So I thought I’d put my two pence in.
I’ve worked within farming and horticulture and floristry, all of which would rate within the least diverse occupations within the UK. And I was really happy to add my experience to those other voices that were interviewed for the project.
Do you want to maybe just explain a little bit more about how you went about the research.
For me the research is involved two main phases digging into the literature that exists which is relatively sparse. So looking at other organisations, for example, that have released equity reports and diversity reports, mostly from the environmental sector, but also a little bit in the farming sector. Also looking at research about BPOC connection to nature, and yeah, just kind of getting a lay of the land, in that sense, different studies about rural racism as well. And then alongside that, just reaching out and trying to find people basically through networks that already exist with Lion and Landworkers Alliance, but also trying to go beyond that and not just staying within you know, agroecological farming but also beyond that. And yeah, that was somewhat of a difficult process. I think that you know, the alternative farming movement can tend to be quite heavily based in the South of Britain so I spoke more to people in that region but you know, we we did manage to speak to a few people in Wales, spoke to people in Cornwall, Dorset, Devon. One person in an outmost island of the Hebrides. In some of these instances, I was really fortunate to be able to go and visit the people and and actually see, what is the work that they’re doing? What is their relationship with the land, and that was a real honour a real privilege. And in other instances, you know, just just doing online interviews, which were equally as valuable. And then just trying to figure out how do I bring all of this together all of this diversity, because we’re talking about BPOC in farming, but that is not a monolith, that is a whole range of different cultures and a whole range of different experiences. So trying to hold some integrity around those individual stories whilst also bringing together some of the common themes.
And on that note, what stood out for you, what were some of the main findings?
The thing that came through most strongly for me was that everybody that I spoke to experience some form of isolation in the work that they are doing, whether that’s isolation from their community of heritage, working in a really rural landscape, and isolation through overt racism, sometimes. Sometimes really aggressive racial harm, and sometimes less overt, more subtle micro-aggressions that tend to accumulate. That was something that I think for me was revealed through bringing together all of these stories and seeing oh, actually, you know, this, this is something that’s really common, and that we can actually do something about, in terms of building networks and building solidarity, building connections, other things that came through, for example, in our session about relationship to profit, we touched on briefly, relationship to land ownership, lack of access to land, of course, lack of access to resources and finance. Another thing that I think is one of the most important target areas when it comes to recommendations and actions is around shifting narratives, and pervasive narratives that exist around who the countryside is for, who farming is for and what you’re supposed to look like, if you’re going to be a farmer, how you’re supposed to farm if you’re gonna go into these professions. And also, you know, there are really interesting tensions that we have to hold as well around people coming from backgrounds where farming is something that has existed more recently in ancestry and heritage, but then being very disconnected from that when they have or their parents have moved from, say, for example, India, or Somalia, or Jamaica, and now living in a high rise building in London and not having opportunities or just the awareness that farming could be a job out there for you, working with the land in some kind of way and building, maintaining that connection with nature. So people are having to find more inventive ways to do that. So yeah, narratives, narratives is a really important one.
You can’t farm without people. We talk so much about mental health, when someone’s feeling isolated, that’s mental health. And if they can’t work properly, farming won’t happen. So diversity is not a second on the list, it should be number one. And this is one of those things where it’s even become second nature, now. I’m just doing it so much that it’s just second nature. And even if it’s challenging people, I do it respectfully, but I will challenge someone, whoever it is, and because so many people are doing it and having allies as well, that’s the only way we’re gonna get there is no point having one or two people. And if I was to get tired or mentally strained, Cel can do it, or if Cel gets mentally strained, Naomi, or you Katie. This is teamwork. And it’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint. And I’m here for it.
I’d be curious to know, briefly, how did you guys get into growing and farming?
Well I think I came to farming through a very unconventional route. I grew up in East London, and in the early 90s, there was a motorway being built through the area that I used to live in. And I got involved in the environmental campaign there. And it was through those environmental campaigners that I then was introduced to food and farming. And I was just hooked. The moment I went onto a farm and was just shown, you know, that magical process of putting the seed into the soil, being able to actually grow something that I could then eat, that just actually transformed my life. And I’ve worked in horticulture and farming ever since.
I’d say as a career, it was accidental. But growing up in Kenya, there was always links to land. Hence why we need people from these community schools. There’s more people that are closely linked to land from developing countries compared to developed countries and that’s just a fact. So for me, I had that experience growing up in Kenya, and then coming here, I always liked animals. I wanted to be a vet. I didn’t work hard enough. So I still want to do an animal related degree, I did a week’s work experience on a farm. And that was it. So that also shows that there are good eggs out there in farming. And the problem is, it’s a small minority, that are quite loud. And like on social media, even in public, they make it look worse than it is. It is bad, and a lot of the people are not exposed, and they’re willing to change and willing to learn. But that small minority that don’t want to change they’re quite loud. And be I think, as a feeling of that we’re getting somewhere is to know that I always say, statistically, less than 5% is non-significant. Those are less than 5%.
What would you guys say are the main recommendations, or maybe the main demands to come out of the report?
Certainly one recommendation that’s come from the report is that there needs to be more support for BPOC in farming and those working in rural areas. So that, you know, you’ve got other people to talk to about issues you may be facing, but also to facilitate that entry into farming as well. Because it’s really difficult quite often BPOC are coming from urban areas, out to into rural spaces to farm. And just accessing certain elements of that is really, really difficult. So having that support network there, people that you can turn to to ask those questions about practical things, as well as perhaps the emotional support and mental health support that you might need. That’s something that’s really important that’s been identified within the report.
The recommendations from the report really span these six different categories. Firstly, it’s about narratives. And for me, that’s the real deep leverage point. Because we can do things on a material level, we can bring representation back into more of a like, level of equity. But until you really shift the pervasive narrative around who farming is for and what it looks like, you’re not really going to change the picture in the long term. And also shifting narratives around, a lot of people that I spoke with, were encountering this sort of perceived incompetence, people not really thinking that they knew what they were doing when it came to their work. And that’s a huge problem. It’s a really deep set problem that people of colour have to face in all walks of life actually. And then kind of on from that is the changing culture, and especially work culture on the farm in farming organisations. And so yeah, that’s very linked with changing narratives. But you know, really focusing on ant-oppressive workplace cultures, making sure that everybody feels safe, and that there are procedures in place where people can report grievances and feel supported. And to stop allowing, you know, this kind of white silence that can exist that just goes on to perpetuate systemic racism. And then yeah, we’ve got a really strong strong need for support strategies. And that can be in terms of financial support. So something for funding bodies to pay attention to, how to redirect resources, to those that might not have inherited it. And building networks, especially in underrepresented regions, we’ve got a strong representation in the south. So making sure that there are networks people can tap into no matter where they are. Because even in the south to be honest with you, a lot of people that I spoke with didn’t know any other BPOC farmers, apart from maybe what was like, very vocal on social media. And then creating spaces for people to come together for healing, not only as Cel’s sort of described in terms of connecting over problems, but also connecting over joy and connecting over, or reconnecting to different practices that might have been lost or different ways of relating to the land and just being together in nature and in the countryside can be a really powerful experience that a lot of people of colour don’t have together. And finally, it comes back to, to land and different models of land ownership and land stewardship that can be explored. So for example, one participant is an ELC steward and ecological land corporative have a really progressive model for how to get communities onto the land and thinking about these things like community land trusts and how to support people of colour to have access to those opportunities. Also, you know, really recognising the colonial ties of land in this country and working with landowners to help establish blueprints of how does one go about relinquishing that power and relinquishing that land? And that can be a really heavy question, but I know that it’s something that some landowners are thinking about, you know, so how can we how can we facilitate that process and hold that space as well? Yeah, and I’ll just say, finally, that I think that with these recommendations, you know, different things apply to different groups. So there are some things that communities of colour might want to pay more attention to in terms of holding healing spaces and thinking about internal narratives that might exist. There are different things farming organisations might need to pay more attention to versus funding bodies versus government. But it’s all part of the picture.
When I started out in horticulture and in farming 25 years ago, I was the only face in the room that looked like mine. And there was no support there whatsoever. The fact that this report has been done now I think is really important and is a really positive step, particularly for all of those new entrants into farming. They know that there will be support there for them. And that definitely is a step to facilitating many more people into this industry.
One of the things we were talking about today was the kind of hope that exists with the next generation or the way that kids are learning about nature today, and I was talking about how I spent a bit of time teaching with some children in the middle of London, children of all different races and how they were like thriving in the mud and the muck and showing me worms and telling me all about oak trees. And for me, that was a real positive, joyful thing to think about is that these things are shifting and these narratives are changing.
You can find the jumping fences reports on the Land in Our Names websites at https://landinournames.community/projects/jumping-fences. There is also an appendix with more in depth stories about the experiences of the people featured in the report. So it’s well worth having a look at that as well. This episode was produced by me Katie Revell, huge thanks to Naomi, Cel and Flavian for their time. Thanks also to the rest of the Farmerama team, Abby rose, Olivia Oldham, Joe Barrett, Fran Bailey, Annie Landless Eliza Jenkins, Dora Taylor and Lucy Fisher. Our theme music is by Owen Barrett. If you like what we do, and you’re in a position to support us, visit patreon.com/farmerama to join our community of patrons. Thank you
Transcribed by https://otter.ai