by Jenny Senter
On a trip to Wales this past winter, I visited with farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, an outspoken advocate of Welsh hill farming, known for his following on social media.
Gareth Wyn Jones, his father, three uncles, three cousins, and his wife and three children are the latest stewards on a farm that has been in his family for over 350 years. His farm, Ty’n Llwyfan, is nestled between the lowest expanse of the Snowdonian Carneddau mountain range and the small community of Llanfairfechan, in northeast Wales.
Jones first gained his social media following in the spring of 2013, during a late snowstorm of epic proportions. The storm initially wasn’t a huge concern to the Welsh farmers because they are used to late snows. As hill farmers, they breed their sheep to be hardy. The blizzard that hit March 22nd raged for two days. The high winds of the storm blew the snow into deep drifts against the rock walls, where the sheep had sheltered. Farmers throughout Wales worked day and night for days to save their animals, many of whom were buried in several feet of snow.
Jones remembers that as he was working to save his animals, he tweeted pictures of his struggles to free the sheep. Almost immediately, he began to receive calls from television and radios stations wanting interviews. Next, film crews and newscasters showed up on the farm in order to film his plight. The coverage of him struggling with his sheep spread throughout Great Britain and beyond. He said although it was hard to balance the rush for television and radio interviews while trying to save his animals, he felt it was important to get the word out about this dire situation that farmers all over the United Kingdom, not just Wales, were facing. Final tallies of the devastation in Mid and North Wales, amounted to the deaths of approximately 1,400 cattle, 30,000 sheep, and untold numbers of Carneddau ponies, the wild ponies of Snowdonia.
Because of this terrible tragedy, and his outspoken manner, Jones developed a following on social media and now has over 12,000 followers on Twitter (@GarethLlanfairfechan). He also uses Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube and his family was recently the subject of a four-part television series called The Hill Farm. He uses this platform to promote his causes which, to name just a few, are convincing Britain’s supermarkets to stock local products, promoting the unique and wonderful qualities of Welsh lamb and beef, making the Welsh population aware of the choices they have to buy local, opposing legislation that hurts farmers, and so much more.
Gareth Wyn Jones believes the problem with farmers, himself included, is that, “We want to make a living, but we are not very good at selling what we do. We are very good at producing, but not very good at selling.” Gareth’s goal is to educate consumers about local products and food production so that they will be more likely to support the local farmer.
Jones is disheartened that some of Wales’ best products are shipped out of country because locals don’t buy Welsh products. Not because the products aren’t good, but because they often aren’t available in the supermarket, where most people shop. Supermarkets stock imported produce, meat, and fish, which Jones believes is of inferior quality. He has lobbied long and hard to encourage supermarkets to purchase local meat, milk, and produce, and to make sure the farmers get a fair price for their goods.
To survive on a small farm, Jones says it is essential to have cooperation between farmers, the support of the community outside of farming, and fair legislation from the government. He pointed out that Welsh farmers haven’t always been respected. But he acknowledges that farmers traditionally haven’t always been welcoming to outsiders. He hopes that all of the publicity will lead to better acceptance and under- standing of all farmers.
The geography, soil, weather, and predators all contribute to making farming a difficult way of life. As a result, Jones observes that many young people have opted out of this life. He hopes to change this trend by educating the next generation about the satisfaction of living off the land and producing quality products. His face lights up when he talks of his love of the land and the life he has carved out for himself and his family.
Jones notes that farming is hard, with “long hours for little reward. Physically, mentally, emotionally - it’s tough.” However, he said he delights in waking up and looking at the sunrise from what he calls his “office view.”
He adds, “I am a custodian that only looks after this land, and I will be very proud if I can hand it over to my children to pass on to the next generation.“