Cynefin: Jon Pountney meets farmer and musician Tom Jenkins

Tom Jenkins is 35 and lives at the top of the valley ridge between Church Village and Pontypridd.

He’s quite unique in that as well as being a full-time farmer, he’s also a very talented musician and songwriter – using the land that raised him as inspiration for his art.

Tom Jenkins © Jon Pountney

“It starts with family, that’s where you are brought up and brought up. You feel part of the landscape, as a farmer,” he says.

”I’m the third generation now, working on the same land…and you want to continue for the next generation, which is my nephew. I work seven days a week. There is a sense of pride in maintaining it, in becoming part of the landscape in a sustainable way”.

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

I meet Tom on a cold but very bright day, as he watches his sheep in the peaceful rural fields of Pen-y-coedcae.

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

His dog Alf facilitates the work of rounding up the herd.

In fact, he springs into action in a black and white flash across the grass, like a genie jumping out of a bottle.

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“The sheep are Welsh highlands, the base of the flock. Different sheep suit different regions. They are a very tough breed,” says Tom.

He reflects on the nature of agriculture in 2022, an ancient livelihood: “You are stewards of the land, a place to belong.

“How not to be inspired, especially on a day like today? »

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

He’s right, it’s an absolutely perfect day, and my kind of light.

The sun doesn’t make much of an effort to rise, but its low light gives the whole thing a cinematic quality.

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“We are going through a period of uncertainty for agriculture across Wales,” says Tom

“You hear about big corporations buying up land and planting trees and forests to offset their carbon footprint and run empty flights.

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

“My dad went to buy machinery from a farm the other day, and the farm was for sale.

“Apparently the biggest interest came from an airline.”

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

I ask Tom how young people can get into farming. It is not easy.

“The average age of a farmer is around 54 and it’s very difficult to get interested in farming because of the price of land,” says Tom.

“In terms of food production, it is worrying that food is imported from all over the world.”

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During the lockdown, they experimented with local produce, he explains: “We started growing potatoes, and it got a lot of interest just by selling them at the end of our lane. .

“People were saying it was amazing, hand picked food, £5 for 12 kilos of potatoes that will last a long time.”

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

Tom explains that there are pressures for sustainability and environmental concerns ultimately: “This farm has been in an environmental program for 20 years, we’ve fenced off the ponds, planted hedges, improved the forests – so we’re reseeding .. 15-20% is reseeded.

“But the land must also be used to produce food. You are not there to make money. You want to farm because that is what you love to do.

“It’s our patch, and if we can use it to produce food to feed people, then great.”

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

Nevertheless, among all the pressures, directives and patterns, there is a beautiful area to ponder, with an interesting contrast of histories – the industrial history for which the valleys are world famous and the history of rural agriculture which is much less known, but far, much older.

How does this universe inspire Tom musically?

“A lot of the music is written around these local areas; looking at the valley every morning is inspiring,” he says.

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

“The people are inspiring. The local community is a working class village where I was raised and went to school. I released ‘When the Coal Dust Settled’, which was songs about the farming the land, and the other part of my family who were coal miners.

“Keeping the heritage through the music, we are all proud people of the Valleys. A lot of people don’t have much around here, but there is a part of pride in the origin and it is in my music “.

As an artist, I’m always curious to hear how other creatives draw their inspiration. How does Tom get a first understanding of a melody or a lyric?

National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

“Just driving the tractor, or spending a lot of time alone, a melody comes to me,” he explains. “Or strum a guitar, even in the fields something will come to me, lyrics, and I’ll put it in my phone”.

Tom is in the process of converting one of his barns into a rehearsal space and recording studio, so the actual atmosphere and vibe of the space will be recorded on tape: “We are recording in the barn, Sounds good in there. It was full of hay bales so we emptied it.

“I’d like to bring other bands over there if we can, and use it as a space for the community. Sell stuff there too.”
National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

Jon Pountney is an artist living near Pontypridd. Although best known for his photography, he also paints, and his work is about community and a sense of belonging. The idea for “Cynefin” came to him during confinement, with explorations of his region. He will travel across Wales to talk to people about their ideas about living and how the country’s places and landscapes reflect and shape the personality of its people.

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