Award-winning cookbooks put farming at the forefront: 'retailers have an awful lot of responsibility and the change must come from them'

With a passion for British produce, Jenny Jefferies has created a series of cookbooks that really champion UK farmers. Emily Ashworth finds out more.

clock • 7 min read
Award-winning cookbooks put farming at the forefront: 'retailers have an awful lot of responsibility and the change must come from them'

With a passion for British produce, Jenny Jefferies has created a series of cookbooks that really champion UK farmers. Emily Ashworth finds out more.

It is not very often that positive farming stories hit the headlines, but Jenny Jefferies has managed to do just that with her series of award-winning cookbooks, For the Love of the Land part one and two. The recipes are all from farmers across the country, with many being a homage to their family history where recipes have been passed down from generations before.

But at the heart of it is British produce and a core story: buy British and support our British producers. Farming across 304 hectares (750 acres) with her husband, John, in Little Gransden, South Cambridgeshire, their arable enterprise is set on a private airfield which sees many vintage aircraft events throughout the year. They also run luxury holiday cottages, which perfectly places Jenny to talk all things food and farming to the public. Jenny is not from a farming background, but after meeting her husband she has become an enthusiastic ambassador for the sector.

I went to Bath Spa University College to study music which it is set on a farm, says Jenny.

I turned to my mum and said, I cannot live here. And ironically now I have come full circle. I then became the picture editor at Sky News, but had what I called my quarter-life crisis, quit my job and went travelling up the Pan American Highway through Chile.

On returning home, Jenny met her husband John and moved to Fullers Hill Farm. She witnessed her first harvest and as they say, the rest is history

Food provenance

I had never once considered where my food comes from, she says.

I had always had this gregarious outlook on food and it has always been congregational and celebratory. I now realise food means so many different things to so many different people. I wanted to reach out to the person who, like me, before I met my husband, did not know anything about food production. My passion lies in bridging that gap and learning about something we have become disconnected with over time.

The idea for the cookbook came from wanting to feed her family well and as many will know, during harvest there is always more mouths to feed on farm.

She says: I was weaning my eldest daughter thinking what am I supposed to feed my new family?

My husband is up and down on a tractor all day, I have a revolving kitchen door, trying to feed everyone. The idea originally was recipes to feed my husband so he could eat on the go, but it was five years from that to pitching the cookbook to the publisher.

I approached Minnette Batters first, to see if she was interested in writing the book foreword. My husband is the farming director for Camgrain and they were both going to be at the same meeting.

So, I wrote a letter for him to give to her and she came back with a resounding yes. That really gave so much credibility to my idea, especially when I started inviting all these farmers to contribute. And for someone to come along who really wanted to paint them in a good light was refreshing.

I am so passionate about this and I just wanted to get their story across in an entertaining and accessible way. And it was all sparked from my husbands passion for the land.

Feeding people sustainably

The last couple of years have seen some major changes to society the pandemic shone a light on farmers and more were shopping locally and utilising farm shops. Fast forward two years and we are now deep in a price crisis where many cannot afford a weekly shop.

There is an awful lot of food poverty in our country. 8.4 million people in our country are malnourished, says Jenny.

I really resent militant food groups or people who do not respect other peoples food choices and seeing people emptying cartons of milk for a demonstration, that makes me angry. It is a really delicate subject and a conversation that affects everybody. We waste 40 per cent of our food.

Over the last 70 years we have become completely disconnected with our food and how it is produced and it is one extreme or the other. It does not help when supermarkets stipulate to farmers that they want a certain type of vegetable.

I do not think it is the consumers or the farmers, I think it is the middlemen. The retailers have an awful lot of responsibility and the change must come from them. Consumers know what they want but if it is not offered then it is difficult. Retailers have an unfair dominance.

I remember just before the pandemic hit a Conservative minister made headlines by saying, we do not need farmers that has really stuck with me.

The continuing success of these books illustrate there is a thirst from the consumer to know about this. Consumers have the power. They want to know these stories.

Celebrating farmers

It has been one success after another for Jenny - For the Love of the Land part one was shortlisted for the Great British Book awards, where Jenny went against the likes of cookery giants such as Mary Berry and James Martin. For The Love Of The Land also won Best Cookbook 2021 in Woman and Homes Book Awards. For the Love of the Sea, which she wrote to champion our British fishermen and wonderful coastline won best self-published work at the Guild of Food Writers annual awards 2021.

The books have opened many doors for her she writes a monthly seasonal food blog for the Farmers Guardians #FarmingCAN campaign and has recently started a column for Country and Town House. She is a Love British Food Hero too.

But her hope is that part two will reach a wider audience, as it features some bigger household names such as Jimmy Doherty, Kate Humble and founder and chief executive of Yeo Valley, Tim Mead. Charity is high on her agenda too, giving a proportion of money from The Love of the Land part two to the Farm Safety Foundation.

She says: I believe that where there is an opportunity to earn there is an opportunity to give.

But she has certainly come a long way since her early days in media and she feels more at home than ever, it seems.

It has been such a privilege to go on this journey with my husband and start this regenerative way of farming and bring our children, Heidi and Florence, up here, she says.

There is a quiet revolution happening behind the scenes [in farming] and to be a small part of that in some way within the role of food production is really exciting.

But to combat current issues, such as Brexit and trade, Jenny is keen to promote the fact that farmers, as always, are doing all they can to put their best foot forward.

There is too much pressure on farmers to make that change.

They work incredibly hard and are passionate about what they and to expect them to be more vocal is unfair. There are external forces on farmers making unnecessary pressures ridiculous trade deals that will undercut British farmers and subsidy cuts.

What farmers are doing at the moment is brilliant and they are at the receiving end of unfair criticism. There is also the pressure to diversify, yet many, who care for the environment and produce food, do not have that option. So, the change must come from other people. Farmers should be celebrated and that is what my books are all about.

Listen to the podcast

Listen to the Farmers Guardian Over the Farm Gate podcast with Jenny Jefferies, where we discuss how to support British producers more and eat balanced and sustainably while considering price.

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