Andy and Courtney,
Daring to challenge,
Unafraid to be asking,
To question our modus operandi.
Courtney and Andy,
Are eloquent words,
Felt deeply at heart,
Hope to them lies in abandoning selfishness,
In questions of status quo,
In more than self-interest.
The emphasis of relearning what we know.
Creating new foundations
for future generations.
Meet Courtney and Andy Farmer.
Not wanting to take away from their individuality, I initially thought about interviewing these two separately. But then, the work they do, they do together. How far they have come will to some extent have been a product of having complimented each other, and so I found myself chatting to them as a couple.
It is one of those random encounters of life that in hindsight seem to fall into place perfectly.
When I first came to this beautiful island, I met Courtney and Andy only shortly down the beach, and subsequently I would see them at the odd Societé Jersiaise Marine Biology meeting I attended. I knew they had their own organisation called LittleFeet Environmental, and radiated if not a certain wildness, also a gentle kindness.
Fast forward almost 5 years, and they were high up on my list of people to speak with for my project, the question of Hope. Writing about my chat with them happened to be in a week where I myself needed a little reminder of hope. It’s funny how life goes sometimes.
More than ever, I am conscious of how lengthy this article might turn out. Does interviewing a couple allow for twice as many pages, I wonder?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the story-telling, but with Courtney and Andy in particular I don’t want to dilute anything. I’m very tempted to just have audio snippets included so you can feel the power behind their words.
Am I slightly biased in writing today? Likely so. And here is why.
My question in this project is what shape hope takes for those in the field of conservation. My introduction blog asks about the origins of hope.
Talking to these two made me think - or possibly reminded me - of what hope might mean to me.
It is a question I have of course asked myself before. With every interview I learn a little more. Since my conversation with Courtney and Andy though, I can’t shake the thought that hope to me personally lies in being reminded - by interaction - that there are people out there who I share many deep sentiments and emotions with.
Or put simply: people feeling the same as me. Even more so, that there are people out there brave enough to forge ahead by questioning what is being taken for granted. To challenge without offense.
Forgive me for getting a little corny, but I may have a little crush on them. There is something in their words that really tugged on my heartstrings, and I am hoping I can convey some of that in this written piece.
With this little disclaimer noted, let’s start at the beginning.
Who are Courtney and Andy?
Andy - a proper Jersey man - started his studies through the Open University 20 years back , when he got the chance to work as a research assistant on sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica. He made his way from there, and covered quite a bit of Central America in the process. Eventually, he returned home with the aim of using his degree and expertise locally whilst still making a living. Not always an easy feat in conservation.
It’s when the company LittleFeet was born - originally set up as a consultancy to work - amongst others - with the EcoActive scheme in Jersey.
The financial crisis would hit soon after, and Andy took a chance. He returned to his conservationist roots in Costa Rica - this time around as Project Coordinator. It is where he would meet the very lively and oh so eloquent Courtney (I did warn you I had a little crush). “Like a bad cold” I hear her laughing in the background when Andy tells me they’ve never really been apart since.
A shared drive for change, and complimenting each other with ideas and the skills to bring those to life, they created their own research project in Mexico that would grow quickly and sustainably into something much bigger than themselves.
For 6 months the two of them underwent pioneering studies of virtually unknown reef atolls and surrounding waters, essentially recording crucial sea turtle populations - significant data they got to present on international platforms.
The beauty of this project? Set up by two passionate individuals and then handed over to a local university research program, and still running to this day. It is true sustainability in the hands of the local community. Courtney and Andy were able to facilitate something that will be a long-standing project to fishermen, and the next generation of students filtering through - some of them finishing their thesis statement based on what this couple once initiated.
They speak proudly of the project and how far it’s come, but there is a real humility there, too. For now they are grateful for being able to “assist and support” as much as possible from overseas.
With pieces of their hearts still in Mexico, I can understand the slight wistfulness in Andy’s voice when he tells me that they have not been able to go back as much as they would like.
It remains a dream for the future, and in the meantime they redirect their focus on reducing our footprint by doing as much as possible in the local context. Beach clean-ups, awareness raising, collaborating with other organisations, and teaming up with stakeholders. All the while maintaining their full-time jobs also.
Making time for me is part of that, and I am grateful they welcomed my ideas when approaching them at first.
Why did they think it was an interesting project to take part in, I ask them. And Courtney quickly touches on something I myself felt early on upon arrival on this island that would become my home.
“It’s a very necessary thing to happen from the Jersey perspective”, she says, stressing how much we are surrounded by the sea, beaches and cliffs. And how relatively little is being done “through the hierarchy” here. “It’s essentially the little guys that are taking it upon themselves, spending their own money, volunteering, bringing people together, and engaging the community” she points out.
It’s a characteristic many islanders are proud of - and should be. Having lived here for only 4 ½ years, it is a noticeable aspect of local life, and I wouldn’t want to take away from it.
Neither would Courtney. But she doesn’t shy away from saying “that realistically, those kinds of issues should be born by the government and made a priority by implementing work forces”. Instead, she continues, “it really is organisations made of driven individuals that have taken the ball and ran with it off their own backs.”.
She is right. It is the grassroots organisations that put the environmental issues on the public agenda and continue pushing them.
If I can do one thing, it is highlighting some of those stories, and help raise awareness for that particular aspect - a common plea for the higher bodies to support our cause.
Both Andy and Courtney stutter a little when I ask them if they have experienced moments of doubt or darkness in their work. There is a little laugh, and finally Courtney half-asks ‘Pretty much every day?”.
Her honesty is so important. It is undeniable that we all struggle in this field. Personally, I am being very grateful for every individual speaking up.
It is the passion that drives us, but it can feel lonely, as she points out, taking their initial beach clean-ups in Jersey as an example.
The positive and encouraging feedback was great, but she quickly had to accept that the actual manpower behind those words may not always pull through, and learned to appreciate the underlying reasons.
Courtney calls it “being a little disgruntled” for the verbal and and financial support not being met by the physical support, or “the boots on the ground” as Andy puts it. They both stress how the latter is needed as much, and in no way mean to dismiss the support they do receive.
“It’s all about manpower”, Courtney reiterates when telling me she believes that many environmental organisations can relate to that notion.
“It’s all about reducing our ecological footprint with the most amount of footprints behind you”, she emphasises.
Andy takes us away from the Jersey perspective when musing about the moments that have made the work difficult for him over the years. Putting in so much hard work in Mexico and elsewhere - relocating turtle nests day after day, only to find them poached the next.
A lot of us conservationists will tell you that it would be easy to point fingers towards evil poachers. Most of us probably did at some stage in our lives. But we’ve all had to learn to put things into perspective. As Andy puts it, “it would be the equivalent of burying gold in the bay and telling people not to go look for it”. “They’re digging up eggs that will feed their family for weeks in return for rice and other essentials”, he continues. There is a pleading note to his voice when he talks about the average turtle nest being the equivalent to maybe $5 or $10. “That’s what it takes to feed their families, and you would think that surely the governments around the world or something could team up..”, and then he is a little lost for words. “It’s so depressing almost, that disparity of worlds that can get you down”.
I feel the sadness even as I listen back to the recording of our chat. It can feel so personal for us that we almost want to pay things out of our own pockets, and it can be heartbreaking.
Yes, this is a little darker than what I usually write. But it’s exactly that pain that got me here, asking how not to resign, and what it is that keeps us going. I have seen the most passionate and intelligent, dedicated people giving up a part of themselves after hitting one wall after the other, I tell them both.
Andy is quiet for a while, and Courtney takes over.
“It’s like for all of our dark days, one fantastic moment can rectify that”, she muses.
She takes Terri the turtle as an example. Terri was washed up here a few years ago, and “rallied an entire community behind her to get her to the Canaries and witness the moment she was being released back on her way”.
It’s experiences like these that “completely wipe the slate clean of all that negativity”, Courtney remembers. “It almost brings you down to the core of this is what we’re really doing it for”.
“It ebbs and flows, doesn’t it?”, she half-states, half-asks, confirming how every week can be a 180.
But with Courtney, it’s acceptance speaking. It is simply a part of the game she and her partner have committed themselves to.
Her other half, however, answers my question by remembering his time in Mexico, talking about “stripping away those prejudices” when walking into a bar and enjoying a beer with the locals. Locals with machetes strapped to their belts, and being the very same people he would see down the beach at night, plundering the nests he worked all day to protect.
To put yourself in that position really takes a certain strength.
Andy’s voice, however, lifts a little when tells me how that experience felt like to him. And he starts laughing when telling me a joke he usually shares with his wife: “The best tool in conservation is a beer!”
We do laugh, but Courtney whole-heartedly agrees and supports her man. “It’s when you allow yourself to experience the other side of the street that you will truly understand the complexity on a human level, to find the common ground."
Reflecting on everything they have just told me, I ask them if hope has ever been a factor in their work in overcoming the challenges of it.
Now, as incredibly well-spoken these two are, I also know them as a fun, light-hearted, maybe slightly crazy (and oh do I mean that in the best sense possible), wild couple.
When I ask this though, there is a longer silence.
A tough question, Andy admits.
Yes, he finally does say. But for him personally, it comes down to distancing yourself from it emotionally. And once you have got something up and running, to focus on the data. Day to day, trying to stay rational. Courtney is “hmhmming” in the back. It’s always there, she agrees, but they usually try to put their science hats on.
Distancing yourself emotionally in this context takes serious strength and willpower - at least from my perspective. And they do tell me that it comes easier to Andy than Courtney. “You have the odd breakdown”, Andy says lovingly to Courtney, and we laugh quietly.
But the feeling goes deep. And it makes me wonder if maybe the fear of that very pain is what has held me back in the past?
It is also bringing us to another core question of this project. Do fear and desperation play a role in having hope? In moving forward?
Andy gives me a sense of something I have experienced with others before. He wouldn’t naturally consider it from this angle if I hadn’t asked him. He doesn’t dismiss how overwhelming the big picture can be. Which is why he consciously practises focusing on an optimistic outlook with silver linings.
Then, Courtney starts speaking. And I’ve carried her words with me since the interview. It is such a bittersweet feeling listening to her.
Sweet and hopeful for knowing that there are others who experience the same emotions as I do, and bitter for having to feel it in the first place.
“That sea turtle”, she begins, “is essentially one of the prehistoric creatures on our planet that has evolved over centuries and centuries, coexisting with dinosaurs. And it’s been only for the last century or so that they are truly threatened.” A threat that’s predominantly man-made, and these days accumulative.“And it’s when I look at the sea turtle, I almost just think you have literally just withstood the test of time, and I could potentially witness you going extinct in my lifetime”.
I wish you could hear her voice. I wish you could hear my sigh as put her words to paper.
She comes back to my question, thinking aloud how “that’s where the hope comes in - by no means are sea turtles alone in being on the brink. But for me, it’s where the push and drive come in”. And she stresses again how “they have survived the test of time and, you know, within a couple of years they could be gone”.
She takes a moment, and then adds that “it is hope that they won’t be, and it is hope that people will rectify their actions and see it in themselves that the world and natural surroundings are so much bigger than we are.”
And then, together, they make a very crucial point that “realistically, yes, we are at the top of the food chain, but at a much grander scale the line should be horizontal with everyone sitting equal”. What they both note, and I am grateful for someone saying it out loud, is that ecologists and conservationists themselves can fall into that trap. It’s what part of this project is aiming at - showing how we can battle with the same concepts. Environmental folks or not.
Listening to those two, I wonder if hope possibly is a pure defiance and unwillingness to accept a version of the future we simply do not want to live in.
“We do what we can, because we don’t want to see them extinct”, Andy emphasises. And he recommends for anyone out there “to pick their favourite species and run with it”, or to find that one thing. “What is it you still want your children to see?” he asks.
It prompts Courtney to add how “people underestimate the power they have”, and how “such small contributions can actually be so grand!”. She feels that people cannot see the contribution they’re actually making, and takes herself as an example.
Being afraid of not doing enough at times, being hard on herself for not having been to Mexico in 5 years now. Only to remind herself in the next breath that those 6 months of work led to something that is still running successfully. There is such genuine care in her words when she says that she “doesn’t ever want anybody to feel discouraged that they are not doing enough. Because grand or small, all of it is contributing.”
She’s tapping into a feeling of mine - as even with this project I have my days, wondering whether it’ll be of any meaning. Her words are encouraging as much as they are empowering.
Andy remembers how that was the original ethos behind LittleFeet: small steps to reduce your footprint. I never knew the origins of their organisation’s name.
It’s so simple, so true, and so important, so beautiful.
“Everyone could take $10 Million and may save a single species one-handedly” he argues. But “if all the people in the world do that little bit every day, we stand a much higher chance of changing attitudes, raising awareness, and ultimately solving the problems”.
True belief rings in his words.
Not to challenge, but to lead to my next question, I tell them both a story of conservation years ago that made me wonder how people continue. And how us in the field react when being met with someone who doesn’t see the value in the cause. Or dismisses it due to bigger corporations running the world anyways.
There’s something subtle, but big in Andy’s reply. “I don’t know if react would be the word”, he starts off. “You know, we have this inner belief that those small steps will ultimately get to the big corporations, too. It’s down to supply and demand. If sustainable practices and eco initiatives start appearing higher on the agenda, it’s only a matter of time until they filter through.
People have to vote with their feet as well as their voices!” he urges so beautifully.
Courtney’s strong voice comes through from the background, filled with conviction. “Grand corporations, certain bodies and authorities..until they are ready to accept that information, we will be here continuing to collect it, and it will be waiting here for them!”.
She makes me laugh, for she gives the negatively-coined eco warrior expression a very different voice.
A very powerful one.
Continuing their train of thought, they tell me about a big beach clean-up a couple of years back, organised in cooperation with a few other grassroot organisations in Jersey. After, they did an audit of the items collected. Data linking back to the big-footed companies all across the UK.
“Albeit it’s collected at such a small scale, it’s that type of information sat there, waiting for them when they do decide to turn around and listen.”.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone phrase it this way. It’s not even a question of whether they are listening. Whether they are ready at this moment in time. The battle is half fought with the work done now. So very powerful, so very beautiful.
These two must have planted a few hopeful seeds along the way, that I am sure of.
And there is something else I had never considered as such. I’ve mentioned before that distancing myself emotionally has never come easy. Truthfully, when seeing it in others I have wondered whether it was a flaw. Whether it wasn’t a sign of resignation. Of losing your way. Andy, however, made me rethink. In his eyes, passion brings us into the work. However, by creating distance you also remove any bias when collecting the data, turning to the fundamentals of facts. And in doing so, the emotional distance turns into a strength that fights for, rather than against your passion.
Thinking I am drawing to a close here, I ask them to pin down what shape hope really takes for them when it comes down to it. Courtney checks in with Andy, and there’s something very sweet and united about it.
Then, they surprise me. Despite not having children themselves, it is hope for the next generation, and daring to challenge a notion too well-accepted. Or maybe one not discussed well-enough? “Why should we be so selfish to be the last generation to see elephants, or to get to know what a sea turtle looks like? Why should we be the last generation to see a shark whilst we’re diving?”, they ask.
“I guess..” Andy is searching for words, and Courtney finds them for him, “it’s the hope of grander and greater things for generations to come.”.
Take a moment here to consider this. What got these two individuals into the work was their own passion and love for the environment, alongside their personal flagship species. The hope they carry, however, is for people they have never met, and never will. For children that aren’t their own, for a world they won’t be here to witness.
“At its very essence, Andy emphasises again, “Why should we be the last?”, and “what gives us the right?”, Courtney finishes.
I was tempted to finish here. In the interview, as well as when writing this piece.
Instead, I decided to ask what they thought our island’s biggest challenge was in terms of environmentalism.
Courtney very quickly speaks from what she has observed across board over the years: an all-encompassing sense of overwhelm, and not knowing where to start.
Going back to what she said before, she feels that “people think that whatever step they may take will be inadequate”.
I’ll say it again. It is across board, and even those environmentally inclined can feel the overwhelm. I certainly have.
“You have to be easy on yourself, and make choices that are appropriate for yourself, as well as the environment surrounding you. And have confidence in those decisions, and that it will grow from there”, is how she urges people to look at their decision-making.
She continues to make an important point about conservation, about change, and about learning. To her, “the whole point is that something like plastic was fantastic a couple of decades ago. Something considered innovative now probably isn’t, and that we look forward in a positive way to change”. Rome wasn’t built in a day, she uses the expression to convey the importance of learning.
All change starts with the first step, doesn’t it? “Celebrating more small steps will hopefully encourage more people to take their own, small steps”, Andy and I agree.
I’ve said this before, conservation needs to be framed much more positively. As a positive experience to take part in. One where we don’t have to save the world single-handedly or in one sweep motion. One where we are doing it collectively.
Shifting my focus from Courtney’s answer to where Andy sees one of Jersey’s biggest challenges, his response does not entirely surprise me. It is something you will hear from Jersey born-and-bred men occasionally, and I do think it’s a notion that deserves a place. After all, it represents a collective experience of the journey Jersey has gone through over the past decades.
And so, Andy points out that he sees one of the greatest challenges in “selfishness and greed”. Courtney didn’t see this one coming, it seems. “We’re getting dark now?” she laughs, and so do I.
I laugh for the reputation a certain generation of Jersey men may have. I cannot help but wanting to allow for their grief of what they feel they have lost here. Andy says earnestly, “Yes, yes, I am” - and I feel grateful he feels he can in this setting.
He actually feels that the community spirit on the island has gone and is nowhere near what it once was. And “that we live in an incredibly greedy island for the 1%”.
Uncomfortably so - for himself, that is - he turns a little emotional when he finds himself saying “people just need to take a step back and love each other”.
There is such a love in his words when speaking of the place of his childhood. His home. Jersey’s off-shore reefs are only one example.
“Why shouldn’t they be left alone and left to reproduce, and actually become natural areas?” Andy challenges. Instead, we have fishing, and dredging trawlers. “Why shouldn’t these places of Jersey’s heritage be protected?”, and Courtney comes to back him up. “Yes, it shouldn’t have to come to the lines of the National Trust having to have an island-wide petition to save a piece of headland. It shouldn’t have to be pushed that far for people to put in their own hard-earned money to a cause that the States of Jersey should be backing anyways!”
Unknowingly, talking from the heart unprompted, Andy reveals how some anxiety is certainly part of why he does the work when he finishes with “I’m just worried that we won’t have anything left”.
There is a pause to let it sink in, before I ask where they do see hope in Jersey.
It’s a hard one to answer for Andy at first, and I feel that in itself it says a lot.
He does, however, see the year of 2020 “as a massive opportunity to hit the reset button”.
Well, haven’t we heard this repeatedly by now? When people first started saying it, I was skeptical. I didn’t think there would be a lasting impact from any of this. These days, and hearing Andy talk about it, I am reconsidering.
Interrupting my thoughts, Courtney brings me back to the moment when adding that “it’s like that clean slate” we spoke about earlier. Of how one fantastic moment can wipe your slate clean during the dark days.
So... what if 2020 was that moment for the environment and nature? A moment in time?
And no, I am not writing a blog about the pandemic. Having said that, the pandemic is our reality, with all consequences good and bad. The silver lining is there, if we want it to be, and if we decide for it to stay with us.
Then, Andy recalls how “we all loved those summer days with not a plane in the air, and how everything felt cleaner, and like you had gone back 50 years”. I find myself smiling, as I myself remember one specific summer morning distinctly. I was having my breakfast in the bay out west and was texting my boyfriend: “It’s almost as if you can hear her [nature] sighing a breath of relief”.
It was such a strong sensation, an almost tangible emotion in the air.
And so, taking Courtney and Andy as an example, I ask: Why shouldn’t we take inspiration from those moments?
The three of us share the hope that people are appreciating the outdoors much more, and that they will remember how much light it brought to them in that dark year our worlds were turned upside down. That they will be acting upon it.
“And that is the whole premise really, it is what nature is all about!”, Courtney exclaims. “It’s there to be enjoyed, to be looked at, to participate in, and not be taken for granted!”
I can almost hear Andy nod in agreement with his wife. Maybe he is thinking of one of his favourite places on the island: Les Mielles. And a fond memory of his younger self playing the guitar, lying on the jetty around the back of St Ouen’s pond. A memory of good times fuelling present actions perhaps?
It is people like Andy and Courtney - pushing the envelope - and feeling the connection to them regarding my own views. It is people like them asking the daring questions that give me the hope I need.
And so, I thank you both.