JB Gill has sung, danced and TV presented his way into our homes, but did you know that he’s passionate about farming? He told Lisa Young all about it.

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You may recognise JB Gill from presenting BBC ‘Songs of Praise’, from CBeebies ‘Down on the Farm’, from ITV ‘The X Factor’ or from the infectious earworms that he made as a member of JLS, one of the UK’s biggest boybands. Even with all this going on, one of his biggest preoccupations is, in fact, his small farm in Kent. JB explains how this came to be for him, his wife Chloe and their son Ace. “Becoming a farmer was – forgive the pun – quite an organic process. I’ve always lived in south east London but come from the Caribbean where people have a closer proximity to food, they live off the land.

"When I moved out of the family home I wanted a rural home and I bought 13 acres of farmland in a semi-rural area.

"When I first moved here, I found it odd that I was given the inventory of the sheep and goats on the land each year, but actually this is what kick started the idea of getting into farming.”

Can I do it?

“I’d been in JLS for three or four years and I now had some land but what did I want to do with it?

"As it’s in a semi-rural location it was difficult to find someone I could employ to manage it for me. There are many equestrian properties in the surrounding area and there were people keen to muck horses out, but they weren’t necessarily interested in farming.

"Even if I could have found someone, I was still busy travelling with JLS so I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone who might not be doing a great job. I also needed to protect my family’s and my own privacy, so trust would have to be vital, too.

"I appreciated and enjoyed the space, I spent a lot of time walking the fields when I was at home. I kept thinking, though, ‘it’s my land, can I make it work for me? Farming is hard work, could I do it?’ Initially I wanted to farm deer as we have a herd of about 40 and it is an unbelievable sight to see fawns in early summer. I researched it but the land we have doesn’t provide enough space to make venison farming profitable.

"So, we started with a Tamworth pig called Ginger. We didn’t have any great aspirations, but we were happy to learn on the job and she had three piglets in her first litter. We now have seven breeding sows and have had nearly 70 piglets from them.”

The great escape

"I find the feeding and welfare the easy bit of having animals. The technical parts like when to wean and the practical side of it, including how to keep them in their fields, is far harder.

"Our pigs are free range and so are outdoors most of the year. They are great, they really are, but they are also very naughty at escaping.

"I remember one afternoon in particular when I was in the middle of a meeting I had a phone call asking if it was our pigs who were in a neighbour’s field across the road. I assured them that it couldn’t possibly be but ran down to check my field just to be sure. Where were the pigs? It took me four hours to get them back home!

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JB and Chloe

"That said, pigs are easier to maintain than other livestock. That’s why I agreed to go into turkey farming when I was approached. The turkeys are also free range and they have a purpose-built shelter and irrigation centre so they are kept well.

"I’ve learnt how to care for the pigs and turkeys and these types of livestock allow me enough free time to do my other work. I check their food, water, bedding and fences on my daily walks around and, when all is well, I can carry on with work.”

Food producers are overlooked

“It is hard in the winter months and I find the toughest time is October and November when the weather seems to be at its worst.

"One year we lost nearly 40 turkeys and it broke my heart. However, I am very aware that this is not my livelihood. For others this tragedy would mean that all the profit from the year’s work is gone.

"That’s why I do my bit to be a spokesperson for the farming industry. I haven’t been farming all of my life, but I do have the platform to bring up issues.

"It’s increasingly important for me to fly the flag for farmers. Facing hot topics like the rise of veganism the meat industry is being hit and that means that livestock farmers are being affected.

"We all need food, farmers supply it and they aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.

"As I said earlier, in the Caribbean where I was born there is in general a clear understanding of where food comes from. Food is fresh, its provenance is known and important and food is more seasonal. People know what you can get, when and how.

"In the UK much of this has been lost. I celebrate supermarkets and the variety they offer but work must be done on the education and understanding of seasonality because, otherwise, it isn’t sustainable.

"For example, the first winter we had chickens they stopped laying when it got colder. We hadn’t bought eggs for so long it was quite a shock! I thought about how much colder and darker the days were and understood that that’s just the way, but people are increasingly demanding of produce whatever the season and this lack of understanding is beginning to take hold.”

Town and country

"I’m proud to be an ambassador of The Prince’s Countryside Fund and I recently met a family on the Farm Resilience Programme farming in a semi-rural area similar to ours.

"Farming in this type of region is like trying, effectively, to ruralise a city that needs more and more urban space because the population keeps rising. The majority of people living in semi-rural locations are not inclined to farm.

"Fifty years ago our farm would be in an area considered rural. Now that the city has spread I can be in London in just 15 minutes.

"As a consequence it’s a struggle to find someone to do the hay because the equipment is expensive and neighbours are not farmers. In a rural location the community is closer knit, there’s more of a village mentality and price per acre is cheaper so more people are farming. Semi-rural locations are more difficult to farm in.

"It is extremely difficult for people with an interest in agriculture who are not related to a farmer or do not have the funds to buy farmland. It’s difficult for them to get experience because they have no experience, so it’s really hard to get a foot on the ladder.

"If you don’t have credentials no-one will take you on, train you, let you shadow them and learn. Apprenticeships are great at this and it’s good to see more agricultural colleges and courses becoming available.

"I believe the future is bright for British farming, with more people wanting to connect with their food and showing an interest in owning their own smallholdings, this can only be a good thing for the industry and for our society too.”

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This exclusive interview is with Smallholder magazine. For your copy subscribe here or ask your local newsagent.