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PEOPLE: QUEEN & COUNTRY AND AGRESPECT
With more LGBTQ people leading happy lives and successful careers in the countryside, Agrespect is a pioneering new network for gay people with the aim to unite, celebrate and encourage greater diversity and inclusiveness in rural communities. Q&C finds out more from Ben Andrews.
With a long-standing family farming history, Ben Andrews is a mixed tenant farmer based in Herefordshire where he farms around 600 acres of organic land. Running the family business along with his father, his main roles are fattening beef cattle, growing lettuce, kale and other vegetables for Abel & Cole as well as cereal crops such as organic porridge oats.
Ben is one of the people behind Agrespect, a pioneering online network for the lgbt+ farming community which he hopes will bring together people from isolated rural areas, celebrate their lives and work while sharing insights and their stories to encourage greater unity, diversity and inclusiveness.
Since childhood, Ben expressed an interest in farming, although it seemed to be an impossible career choice, despite the family farming connection. He said: “I never really set out to be a farmer. Growing up I was no good at rugby, couldn’t drink my body weight in real ale and didn’t fancy girls, which all seemed to be prerequisites for being a farmer.”
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Despite his doubts, he learned to drive in a Land Rover as soon as he came of age, and could be found counting cattle, repairing fences and grading potatoes.
While all of his childhood memories involved farming he still didn’t feel he lived up to the rough and tumble masculine farming archetype, which contributed to a sense of isolation in a community he was not only linked to by time and place but also by blood.
Giving up on his attempts to find a girlfriend and settle down with an ordinary job, he left home at 18 and set out to do a degree in Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. It was the space and time he needed to find his true self and discover what his future held.
“Over those four years I learned more about myself than I did about agriculture and this was the time I came out to myself, my friends and most scarily my family.”
While it wasn’t all plain sailing, he worked through it and is now an established and successful partner in the family farming business.
He also married his boyfriend of ten years, John, back in 2016 on the family farm, surrounded by all his loved ones. He added: “It was something the 11-year-old me never thought could happen and the 16 year old me always dreamed of.
Reaching such a place of contentment has given him the motivation and opportunity to give something back, which he hopes can be achieved with Agrespect. He said of the enterprise: “Hopefully by showing other LGBT+ individuals that it is possible to live and work in a rural community whilst being gay, we can not only retain in agriculture the bright, creative minds that are often lost to seemingly more liberal urban areas but also attract new blood from outside traditional farming families.
“Of course, we mustn’t forget the countless farming folk of all ages who feel they cannot live the life they want for fear of being shunned by family and friends should they come out. I hope we can offer them a beacon of hope that being open about their sexuality doesn’t have to be a barrier to leading a happy life and fulfilling career in the countryside.”
Visit the Agrespect website for more information.
Follow Agrespect on Instagram: @weareagrespect and Ben: @bentheoandrews