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Ladner woman wins Outstanding Young Farmer award
If more women are breaking the "grass ceiling" in agriculture then Ladner's Lydia Ryall is a perfect example of it.
The 29-year-old owner of Cropthorne Farm on Westham Island is the 2014 recipient of the B.C. Outstanding Young Farmer award, given annually to farmers under the age of 40 who demonstrate success through innovation in agriculture.
Not only is she the first sole recipient of the award dating back to 1980, she is the first woman whose name will appear without her husband. But Ryall says she doesn't really think much about her gender.
"I think sometimes how I am a small person, or petite woman, and so if anything I get frustrated that I'm not bigger because I want to be able to lift things more," she says, laughing.
Ryall isn't the only woman putting in long hours and hard work at Cropthorne Farm every day. Her sister Rachel helps on the four-hectare certified organic mixed vegetable and free-range poultry operation. Rachel has two daughters who watch the sisters work and drive a tractor every day, which means there could be more female farmers down the road.
"I'm happy to provide them with a positive role model–as in yes, women can be doing this and they are," she says.
Ryall says farming is a rewarding, family-oriented career which provides for the next generation.
"Whether it be your own children or someone young coming on to the farm to take it on."
Ryall prepared for a career in agriculture through her education. She owns an agriculture diploma and degree from Olds College in Alberta and the University of Lethbridge, respectively.
She also comes from a farming background. Her parents ran as equal partners in greenhouse operations for years before retiring two years ago. At that time they relocated from 41B Street in Ladner to Westham Island and helped set up her new business off Tamboline Road.
Instead of turning to conventional farming Ryall chose organics, which she says reduces the economic inputs in crop farming. That frees up money to spend in other areas of the business.
"It's kind of on trend toward what customers are looking for," she says. "That's part of it but it's also a pretty natural and easy way to grow."
Ryall runs a Community Supported Agriculture program, offering buyers 20 weeks of fresh produce at $27.50 per box. Each box provides between eight and 11 different varieties of fresh, seasonal vegetable every week for five months.
She uses the pre-orders as seed capital–quite literally–to purchase seeds for the growing season.
Each year the B.C. Outstanding Young Farmers Program receives nominations from individuals, organizations and industry. Regional finalists are honoured at the BC Agriculture Council gala dinner in Abbotsford. A national award will be designated in Quebec City in the fall.