LARGE black and white photo portraits of Herefordshire farmers are being pasted up around the county as part of a poster campaign revealing the diversity amongst farmers and the faces behind our food.

Herefordshire Farmers – Guardians of the Soil is a campaign mounted by Jenny Watt from Almeley, Herefordshire, after she became aware of the plight of Herefordshire dairy farmers suffering the effects of low farm gate milk prices.

Jenny was due to display the 1m by 1.5m images, showing the faces of 25 farmers by the beginning of June, in prominent places around the county.

She said her campaign reveals farmers “in all their diversity; men and women, old and young, straight and gay, with large farms or small farms, with positive outlooks on their future, or grim views on their chances of survival.”

She said she was prompted to take action when she noticed new despair in the eyes of a nearby farmer, who doesn’t wish to be named, over dropping milk prices.

“What inspired me to start the campaign was seeing a local farmer.

“He’s a very happy farmer. His grass is beautiful and his cows look great. But for the first time last year he started losing money and there was the look of despair.

“His wife really hit the nail on the head. She had heard on the radio about tribes disappearing and she said ‘that’s the same as us, we are tribes disappearing.”

She approached New York based charity, Inside Out, which supports photo campaigns to bring community groups to the attention of the public around the world and it agreed to print the posters.

“The charity is all about empathy which fits perfectly the Herefordshire farm situation because there’s debate about industrial farming and non-industrial small farmers and small farms dying,” said Jenny, who is a director at Norton Canon based community interest company, The Cart Shed, which uses the natural environment to encourage people to improve their health and learn new skills.

The photos were taken by students at Hereford College of Arts and are close ups of farmers.

The blown up photos are without captions, the faces thought provoking.

Amongst the images are Jo Hilditch who produces British Cassis at Lyonshall, Harewood End based soft fruit grower, Anthony Snell, Herefordshire NFU County Adviser, Clare Greener, Hereforshire NFU county chairman, Patrick Wrixon, Craswall livestock farmer Graham Richards, Ross-on-Wye farmer Chris Chinn, Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry, Wiggly Wigglers’ Heather Gorringe and farmer husband, Philip, and former dairy farmers, husband and wife Jeff and Carey Glyn-Jones at Eardisley, who are champions of sustainable organic living.

Some are smiling despite adversity however cider and perry maker, Tom Oliver, based at Ocle Pychard, is smiling warmly at the camera.

For business is looking rosy for him and his cider and perry is being enjoyed around the world.

However this isn’t the picture for all of the area’s diverse cider makers.

“We have tried hard because the honest answer is the market for real cider in Herefordshire is limited. But there’s a massive interest accruing around the world.”

He said anything like Jenny’s poster campaign is important and “right up my street.”

“Anything getting the message out to a wider audience is a good thing. It’s something, particularly in agriculture, that we are not good at.

He hopes that when the public look at the faces, unaccompanied by the usual poster advertising, a response will be triggered.

“They are unlike an ad where everything is worked out for you. The enquiring mind will latch on,” said Tom.

For him the posters are celebrating those that see a rosy future as well as those that don’t, and those farmers in between.

“It’s a snap shot of a certain moment and in that moment some people will always be feeling more optimistic. But do that snapshot again and roles may be reversed.”

Tom, who has been selling cider and perry since 1999 and now produces 100,000 litres a year, added: “I’m optimistic for craft cider and very optimistic for small scale niche cider but large scale cider makers are still engaged in a price war.”

The same is true for dairy farmers and other producers. The family who inspired Jenny say they no longer feel they sell their milk but give it away because the price is so low.

One member of the family said: “Price is such an important thing. I interview people often when I go to the supermarket if they are buying anything to do with meat or milk, particularly people with a better income. They say they would pay more and think it’s a good idea but keeping to it is a bit like keeping to the village shop.”

Ideally everyone would be like Jenny who says she approaches farming with a consumer perspective.

“I just want to eat local food, grown and produced by people who care,” said Jenny, adding: “The purpose (of the posters) is to show to the general public the faces behind the produce they buy and behind the landscapes they see. Also to remind the public that when they buy local produce, they support a whole community of people who make Herefordshire what it is. And by extension, that when they don’t buy local, farmers don’t get that support and run the risk of going out of business.”

She hopes her campaign will make everyone feel concerned about the lives of Herefordshire farmers and empowered to help them thrive.