A small group of British farmers and their livestock got the celebrity treatment this week when they travelled to London to have their portraits taken by legendary UK fashion and music photographer, Rankin.

Their photographs will be part of a large-scale exhibition called We Feed the World, which plans to launch in London in September, 2016 before touring six regional cities in the UK. It aims to change the image of the poor struggling farmer and instead celebrate the work of the men and women who feed 70% of the world’s population.

The project led by campaign group, Beyond GM, is working with ex-Daily Telegraph Magazine picture editor, Cheryl Newman, to bring together a collection of world-renowned photographers to take the farmers’ portraits. Amongst them are award-winning UK photographers, Jane Hilton and Marcus Bleasdale, Magnum photographers Alec Soth and Alessandra Sanguetti and celebrated Brazilian photojournalist, Sebastiao Salgado.

“We want these images to reach out to a mainstream audience and connect them with the source of their food” says project director, Francesca Price. “Thanks to clever marketing, many people now believe that we need an industrial food system or technological fixes like GM to feed a growing global population. We want to show them this isn’t true. Small farmers, many of which are family businesses, have the resilience, diversity and skills to feed the world if we support them.”

Beyond GM has been working alongside other charitable foundations such as The Gaia Foundation, Groundswell International and La Via Campesina to locate farmers from around the world. All the stories vary greatly but within all of the case studies, the farmers are using agroecological methods to produce food for their families and communities and for a wider market.

“We have met some extraordinary farmers already, who have inspiring stories to tell. Some are using traditional methods, despite enormous pressure to change, while others have adopted new techniques which conserve water, soil and biodiversity on their land,” says Price. “Their stories are truly inspiring and it was these personal details we wanted to get across in the exhibition and accompanying book.”

The project is championed by celebrities like Vivienne Westwood, Jo Wood and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Whittingstall says,

I feel lucky that I work and live in a community where there are still small scale farmers creating fantastic products and local employment. We Feed the World aims to connect as many people as possible to the source of their food supply and gets them to question just who is dictating the future of their food economy and why? I urge everyone who thinks that’s an important question to get behind this.

Alice Holden

Amongst the group of farmers having their photograph taken this week was Alice Holden, head grower of the award-winning Growing Communities project in Hackney, London. Alice says “We’ve become so disconnected from nature and the whole process of how our food is grown and the people who grow it. A project like We Feed the World is trying to raise awareness about farmers and show farming as a viable, diverse and vitally important job.”

Taking time out from harvesting a glut of winter salad and tomatoes, Alice admitted to being a little nervous having her photograph taken by such a big name photographer but said Rankin made her laugh and she was pleased to be able to promote farming before taking time off to have a baby in January.

She was joined by Tim and Mary Mead, the Somerset owners of the organic dairy giant, Yeo Valley, who work with many small dairy farmers. They travelled to London with an award-winning calf called Kylie who caused quite a stir in the back streets of North London. An expert on British Freisan cows, Mary’s main concern was that Kylie wouldn’t look good in the picture. “ I was worried that her udders wouldn’t be hanging evenly!” she laughs.

Also there was Oxford based grower, Iain Tolhurst, known as the “veg whisperer” for his ability to revive failing horticulture projects. Iain has advised everyone from Paul McCartney to Trudi Styler on how to grow organic vegetables. He runs the highly successful Tolhurst Organics from within the 500-year-old walls of the Hardwick Estate, which supplies over 400 families in the Oxford and Reading area.

Ed Hamer

The last farmer of the day through the Rankin studio was Ed Hamer, from the Chagford Commumity Farm in Devon. Ed also features in the We Feed the World film, which gives more information about the project. Ed says “The identity of farmers has been lost with the drive for consumerism and cheap food. It’s crucial that we now recognise the role that farmers play in feeding the world.”

Cheryl Newman, who is curating the We Feed the World exhibition believes photography is the perfect medium to get this very important message across:

I’ve been working as a photo editor for over 20 years now and I’m always astounded by it’s power for change and advocacy, how it can excite you, how it can scare you and make you question the way you look at things. This is the first time such an extraordinary group of photographers have come together behind a single cause and it gives us enormous potential to reach out to a wide audience and empower them to engage with the future of their food system and their environment.

The project has just launched a crowdfunding platform to raise the additional finance it needs to see the exhibition through to its final stages. The first 100 people to pledge will receive a copy of the photographic book from the exhibition, plus a ticket to the opening night for just £25.00. Also available are dinners at some of the UK’s top ethical restaurants, organic goodie hampers and a £10,000 private photo session with Rankin – surely the ultimate Christmas present for the person who has everything!

Photograph: CGIAR

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