Field Visit

  • Photography and words  Alexander Mourant

The romanticized idyll of the rural farmers’ lifestyle is an image which may exist elsewhere, but in Jersey it’s on the verge of becoming a distant past.

In the 1970’s good livings were made from mixed farms with dairy cows, vegetable production, and Jersey Royal new potatoes. Unfortunately in the present day, as with the rest of the world, pressures on food prices have reduced the efficiency of Jersey farms. The farms had to grow in size in order to survive, dissolving those smaller farms which disappeared alongside the farmers’ huge knowledge of their land.

Today, the fabric of the island has changed for the worse some would say, with the perpetual squeeze on farmable land increasing with population. The direction of the island is strongly focused towards cultivating the finance sector, along with urban spread and housing developments. Perhaps as a result of disinterest from the local workforce, among other varying factors, the remaining farmers rely on labour from Portugal and Poland to assist them. These dedicated staff bring their own families to the island, which has brought further cultural changes and diversity to Jersey. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was French labour that helped the local growers, some of these superb workers stayed and now have their own farms.

The remaining farmers are the custodians of the land for future generations and are trying to make the best of  “their” time to use that land. The pressure on the farmers to reduce pesticide and fertilizer use and thereby improve water quality is huge. If food prices were to rise to be in line with the costs of production, the pressure on land use would decrease, thereby reducing the environmental consequences. But part of a farmer’s wide range of skills is the ability to adapt and change with the times.

The Jersey Royal potato has survived over a hundred and sixty years by being nurtured and planted by hand. This is a truly unique and arduous process and gives the Jersey farmer earlier, more valuable potatoes, from late March to late June. I’m skeptical how far knowledge of this special process extends outside of Jersey, and I think people would be interested in supporting such a traditional production.

Supermarkets insist on stocking up to fourteen different varieties of potatoes in store. Whether the consumer demands such a variety I’m uncertain, however, this has undercut and diluted our small market share. It is a constant battle, with an increase in advertising and marketing support desperately needed to educate the consumer on this British product.

I believe I’m influenced by my heritage, not just in the way I view food, but on a grander level of cultural awareness. It is essential to support existing methods of production and encourage new projects. In doing so, a sense of community and togetherness is cultivated through this engagement. As a society, we seem to have a growing estrangement to the environment and one another. This subject is another example of how we’re at risk of further distancing. I photograph aspects of the farm – as a record, not just for the shifting landscape, but out of respect for my heritage, and for the community striving to continue this legacy.

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