International Women’s Day – Gillian Crawford

Our final feature for this years International Women’s Day is Gillian Crawford!

Gillian’s life didn’t begin in the agriculture industry, but let’s just say she married into it! She has always loved the outdoors and was never afraid of hard work.  With a BA/BPHE from Queens University and a B.Ed from U of T, Gillian began her teaching career in New Brunswick where she got to know a diverse group of farming families. From there she went on a teaching exchange to Scotland for a year and while in Scotland, met John Crawford a Scottish sheep farmer and as they say, the rest is history.

After Gillian returned to New Brunswick, John sold his family farm on the island of Lismore in Scotland and moved to Canada. Following their wedding, John and Gillian spent time travelling – spending six months in Australia and New Zealand, where she really started to learn about sheep farming.

Following their travels, they returned to Scotland and took over the lambing for about 750 sheep, mostly outdoors on a farm in central Scotland. Through the wind, rain and snow and miles of walking Gillian quickly learned a lot about sheep and their lambs. Although they had planned to settle in Scotland, they were unable to find a farm to meet their needs, this brought them back to Canada once again where they purchased a farm in Central Ontario. Here they built their flock up to about 500 sheep, Gillian learned to drive a tractor, a skidsteer, and figured out basic bookkeeping. When she got a couple Scottish highland cows as a Christmas gift, she decided that was her sign that she had earned her way into the industry!

After a few years in Ontario, they needed more land for hay and grazing, but with the prices and availability of land beyond their reach they had to look elsewhere. So, in the summer of 1997 they made the move to River John, Nova Scotia, with their 500 sheep, small herd of highland cows, a few dogs, and their two year old son. 25 years later, they still call River John home – and this is where you will find Lismore Sheep Farm.

Over the years they have made changes on the farm about their main priorities as an operation, but the sheep have always been the core to what they do. When the lamb market collapsed many years ago they down sized the flock and put less emphasis on the number of lambs sold and more on value added products from wool and sheepskin. After the birth of their daughter, they opened a small shop in a converted double car garage attached to their house. This quickly expanded to the large year-round shop in a historic 200-year-old barn where they still are today. In their shop you can find blankets and yard, sheepskin products, slippers, as well as their own lamb and beef. You will also find Lismore Sheep Farm at farmers markets throughout the province.

With her teaching background and the fact she wasn’t brought up on a farm, Gillian knows the importance of teaching people about agriculture and feel it is part of their responsibility as farmers to do this. From May to October one of their barns is open to visitors with an interpretive display about sheep and their wool, they have participated in Open Farm Day from it’s very early days, and they host a “Sheep Day” mid July every year as part of River John Festival days.

As we know farming isn’t just a career it is a way of life. So, although Gillian wasn’t born into the agricultural industry, she’s in it now and couldn’t be happier.

One message she would like to share for International Women’s Day?

“The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Every Women Counts” and I think this theme fits perfectly  for women in agriculture. We are involved in so many different ways. Some of us are “hands on”, lambing sheep, milking cows, planting , tending and harvesting acres of vegetables. Others spend hours in a lab, some study statistics, or design machines for packing vegetables. Some teach agriculture and some create recipes to promote eggs. We need people to package frozen blueberries, spin wool, harvest honey, test seed varieties, guide farmers on their finances. And equally important are those that are at home on the farm running the household, feeding and caring for the children, running to town for tractor parts or to the vet for medication. Every woman in agriculture counts. Whatever part of agriculture you are interested in, do it and do it well. Do it because you like it, it interests and challenges you and it provides you with a sense of accomplishment. Do it because it takes all of us to make successful agriculture happen. The world is changing around us but people will always need to eat so whatever your role is in the agriculture industry, it is important , and it is up to us to  make sure the food is there for them.”