Farm of ideas – Rachel Jones

I’m from North London. I studied environmental science and four days a week I work as an environmental consultant. Photography is a big passion of mine and fills up much of my time around that.

What’s your story?

Photography is something I’ve always done. My dad gave me a little point and shoot for Christmas when I was about eight and I used to photograph the other kids on our street. I’ve been photographing ever since.

In my twenties, I started to combine the photography with the environmental and social issues that I was really interested in. I photographed protests to begin with and I still enjoy shooting them today but over time I’ve become more interested in photographing solutions to environmental and social issues and the people working on them.

Photography of environmental topics has tended to focus on revealing the problems, which is important, but I think we also need the flip side to that. I’m curious about how we fix those problems. Who’s fixing them? What does that look like? I want to find and showcase the people working to change things for the better and reveal the humanity, personality and humour within that work.

Tell us about your project ‘Farm of Ideas’.

These photographs document the work life of young regenerative farmers on the Farm of Ideas in Denmark, the farm of chef Christian Puglisi who set it up to supply his restaurants as well as to start a conversation within the gastronomy industry about sustainable agriculture. Young people from non-agricultural backgrounds who are interested in farming come here to work and learn about organic and regenerative techniques.

I first encountered the farm a few years ago and worked there for a month. I knew that this type of farming has the potential to make a huge impact against some of our biggest challenges like climate change and ecological degradation, but what really struck me was how joyful the work was. 

This style of farming is done on a “human-scale” rather than “machine-scale” and so it maximises contact between people and nature compared with industrial agriculture. This results in all sorts of strange and wonderful and beautiful and weird moments during the working day that make it great to photograph.

I spent time on the farm in the summers of 2018 and 2019 documenting the work of the young farmers. In revealing the hard work and the joy within it, I hope to familiarise regenerative farming to those who haven’t come across it yet. Without a doubt, it’s something that’s going to be a big part of our future.

Can you tell us a bit more about regenerative farming and what that means?

Regenerative farming essentially means putting soil and ecosystem health at the centre of farming practices.

It typically involves disturbing the soil as little as possible, so instead of churning up the soil through ploughing or tilling, you leave it alone so that animals, fungi and microorganisms in the soil can establish and build structure and fertility naturally.

It also involves growing organically – avoiding chemical fertilisers or pesticides. That means you don’t damage the wildlife in the soil that provides fertility, the surrounding wildlife that keep pests in check (like birds) and the surrounding pollinators, which means then that we aren’t eating extra chemicals as a consequence.

One big benefit of farming this way is improved yields, as you get more produce out of the same area of land. An even bigger benefit is to do with climate change. Soils are a natural storage place for carbon, but when we plough we release carbon dioxide from the soil into the atmosphere.

Not ploughing has the opposite effect; carbon dioxide is drawn down from the atmosphere and fixed by plants and microorganisms into the soil. Scientists estimate that we could fix all of the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere every year if we looked after our own soils in the way that regenerative farming does. That blew my mind.

The regenerative agriculture movement does of course have its challenges – not least access to land and financial viability. The best thing we can do to push it forward is to buy our food directly from these farms wherever possible. Some of them run veg box schemes you can sign up to and others are at farmers markets. Admittedly access is still patchy at the moment, but this will no doubt grow over time.

While working on the project, were there any moments or experiences or realisations that stood out to you?

Something I found hugely inspiring while creating the project was seeing how many young people from all over the world were passing through the farm while I was there.

They came to learn and had such an appetite for what is an incredibly labour-intensive way of producing food. I sensed many were on a path to eventually start up something similar and from what I can see, the regenerative farming movement seems to be gaining momentum worldwide.

Another thing that became clear while spending time on the farm is how much we’re all being short-changed by supermarkets when it comes to food taste, quality and variety. Rocket is a great example; the rocket from the farm is big, crisp, juicy and really spicy. It’s miles from the small, limp, wiry, bagged stuff I was used to from supermarkets. It’s a similar story for so much other produce, and once you taste the food on the farm it’s clear that it’s so much better. I think that’s what really hooks people.

Recommend us something.

I’m currently reading ‘Degrowth’ by Jason Hickel. It explores some interesting history about human understanding of our place within nature, and how that has differed over time and by culture.

For necessary escapism, I’m watching Cobra Kai on Netflix

For anyone interested in finding out more about regenerative agriculture, ‘Kiss the Ground’ on Netflix is really informative. Be warned, however, it is toe-curlingly cheesy in places.

Finally, tell us about a piece of art that has influenced you

Art was always my favourite subject at school and I was lucky enough to have had a brilliant art teacher – thanks Ms. Beavis.

One painting she introduced me to and that has stayed with me is ‘What The Water Gave Me’ by Frida Kahlo. I found it both completely different and instantly relatable. That’s surely got to be the ultimate goal. For people, no matter their walk of life or feelings about the particular subject, to see themselves in your work, and I think that’s especially important when you’re dealing with social and environmental topics.

Another painting she introduced me to was ‘Cossacks‘ by Wassily Kandinsky. I have simply loved the colour and action in his paintings ever since. I’m sure that has had an impact on how and what I photograph. I’m always drawn to things that are full of colour and fast-moving.

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