Producer Profile - Spirit Sands Shepherds

If you have attended the Manitoba Fibre Festival in the last seven years chances are you have handled either the fibre or animals from the large flock of Gerry Oliver and Spirit Sands Shepherds. Gerry has been a force in the Manitoba fibre scene, promoting rare breeds, educating others on shepherding and fibre, and advocating for wool throughout the region and the country.

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Gerry was not born into a farming family, but she had a love of rug hooking and other fibre art. She met her husband Ralph, whose family had a grain farm just north of Carberry, MB. They purchased sheep about 20 years ago and farm 1200 acres. Originally the flock was meat breeds but slowly evolved into a fibre flock. Gerry has a well curated flock with some rare breeds that are not found anywhere else in Manitoba.  She raises many long-wool breeds such as Wenslydale, Cotswold and Romney.  She raises fine wools such as Rambouillet, Polypay and Romeldale. She also has a small number of down breeds including Suffolk and Shropshire.  Her breeding program focuses on developing fleeces that are exquisite and unique.

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Gerry has won numerous awards for her fibre throughout the Prairies. Most recently her fleeces were Grand Champion and Reserve Champion at Olds Fibre Week and Reserve Champion at the All Canada Classic at Humboldt, SK. Gerry's fleece is a reflection of the hard work, years of experience and work she has put into raising the best animals for fleece quality, fineness, strength, durability and colour.  

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Gerry’s sheep breeding program focuses on two main ideas: breeding for the handcrafter and commercial markets, and producing a good dual purpose animal suitable for the meat market. With the rise in popularity of hand crafting, she tries various crosses of longwool sheep and finer wool breeds to produce both interesting and unique fibre formation, strength, lustre and colours. For the commercial market, limitations of the machinery requires shorter fibre lengths, while maintaining interesting styles of wool.

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Gerry sells raw fleeces and a small amount of washed fibre. Many people enjoy visiting Gerry's farm near Carberry and picking out a fleece for their own processing, They can also be found at the Manitoba Fibre Festival and the Blue Hills Fibre Festival. She also sells breeding stock in a limited number. In the future, she will be hoping to have more finished products to sell as well as continuing to develop a unique herd, with the infusion of other rare and unique breeds.

To get in touch with Gerry contact gerry@spiritsands.ca




Producer Profile - Ferme Fiola Farm

Every month we will profile one of our producer members to tell the story of how and why they farm. We want to see stronger connections formed between producers and consumers.

 
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 In a time when so many family farms are being consumed by larger operations it is inspiring to see the re-birth of generations old farms. This is the case of Ferme Fiola Farm, the homestead and operation of Joey Fiola and Christel Lanthier.

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The Franco-Manitoba Ferme Fiola farm started in 1922 when Joey's great grandparents started the farm in Ste. Genevieve Manitoba, about 40m east of Winnipeg. They raised sheep and cattle on the original farmstead. Eventually Joey's grandfather shifted to raising only cattle and then farming and in 2012 Joey and Christel purchased the farm to grow hay.

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While Joey grew up on the family farm and had been driving tractors since he was 6 years old, Christel moved from a rural community to the city when she was five years old. She was always determined to go back to the country and farm. Inspired by an article she read about the Strekker Merino sheep farm she pursued raising sheep and growing her own wool. Combined with her studies in textile dyeing and weaving at the Alberta College of Art and Design it all led her towards a future in textile production.

After purchasing the family farm, starting their family and continuing to farm hay, they were looking for a more organic solution to fertilizing the hay fields. In 2016 this led Joey and Christel into raising sheep and pursuing more holistic methods for farm and livestock management. In the fall of 2016 they purchased their first 5 ewes, Rideau Arcott Cross sheep. Their farm quickly grew and they now have over 25 breeding ewes and they pasture more than 50 during the summer.

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They breed their ewes for quality wool and meat, and market both these things direct to consumers. They have also expanded their livestock farming and raise chickens and llamas. They farm 120 acres of forages and they grow spray-free grains and oats.

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They have their beautiful wool processed every year into yarn and roving, utilizing the beautiful natural shades of their sheep, white, brown, black and grey. Christel also produces tallow products like soap, candles and balms. Christel naturally dyes some of their white yarn using flowers and plants that she grows in her garden and forages for on their property.

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Ferme Fiola Farm sells their yarn, fibre and other products at various fibre festivals in Manitoba, at their own on-farm events, and products will be available on their website in the spring of 2019. www.fermefiolafarm.ca

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Ferme Fiola Farm is a herbicide and pesticide free farm, utilizing sustainable farming practices and pasture-raising their sheep and chickens. “We try to focus on local production and consumption, when we raise animals, we try to use as much of that animals as possible, the wool, the meat, the tallow – none of it goes to waste.” states Christel. “Having a sustainable farm and providing locally grown wool to knitters and fibre artists is our goal. We plan to grow our fibre flock and meat flock, we want to offer sheep skins that we process ourselves using traditional methods and offer workshops on tanning. We enjoy offering open farm days and see education around farming and fibre as an important part of our farming operation.”

To learn more about Ferme Fiola Farm or to purchase wool/fibre check out

Instagram: @fermefiolafarm

Website: www.fermefiolafarm.ca

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