By Sine Robertson

Jessica Sloss Grant of Ballarie, Lochranza, on Arran, says she is ‘living the dream’. For Jessica, the dream is one of combining farming on Arran with a career as an artist running her own homeware design company, based on images of farm animals.

In the four years since the tiny powerhouse (she’s 5’2”) left school, she has turned her back on a career in childcare, moved towards farming, to the extent that she is now hoping eventually to take over the lease of her grandfather’s farm. In addition, she has married and set up Ballarie Designs.

“I’d always helped grandpa at the weekends and kept pet lambs when I was younger, but when I was studying childcare at college I used to help grandpa whenever I had time, then I started thinking, ‘I could do this as a job’, but when I spoke to my granny and grandpa, they pointed out the facts – such as it not being a sustainable income, I was studying something else and that I’m a girl, not that that’s an issue but I’m a tiny girl, however they have done nothing but support me.”

Jessica didn’t see any hurdles in her way and buckled down to work, soon giving up her studies to focus on the 1500 ha farm. “We have 300 ewes here. Grandpa used to have 500, but since the big snow in 2013, he has cut back in numbers.”

Her father wanted her to go to agricultural college, but Jessica wanted to stay on the island and opted instead for an animal husbandry course taught by distance learning and supported herself with part time waitressing work. “The course suits me, I go at my own speed and I fit it in when I can.”

Although she is following the course, Jessica is adamant that she is learning traditional skills and knowledge of the farm and the ways of the sheep, from her grandfather.

“There’s only so much you can learn from a textbook when it comes to farming, hands on experience is the best way to learn in my opinion. Skills such as shearing are very hands on experiences, I watched my grandpa and uncle shearing for nearly five years before I gave it a shot myself and even now I still benefit from their expertise.

“There can be situations you find yourself in on the farm that no textbook can prepare you, especially on a hill farm. We do a lot of gathers over rough terrain and some of our sheep have quite wild natures, you’ve got to be able to judge what direction they’re going to go in; whether it’s worth getting those few stragglers above you or playing it safe and staying with those you’ve already got – you never know what path they’ll take off the hill or if one is going to suddenly dart off and the rest will follow.

“I’ve only learnt to watch and notice these things from working alongside my grandpa. He’s even taught me things such as, if the sheep are lower down on the hill and tricking you into thinking the gather will be easy, it does in fact probably mean that the weather was too rough up top and it’s not worth risking going up.

“He’s taught me, if it’s a particularly sunny day, always to open gates wider, in case the sheep can’t see for the sun; all the little things you don’t think about or get taught from a text book.”

Alongside the work and life of the farm, Jessica continued her love of drawing and painting, frequently taking animals from the farm as her subject.

Through her mother’s work in a graphic design studio, Jessica had access to a sublimation printer and was able to have her designs printed onto mugs and coasters.

Her husband, Don, suggested that she might be able to sell some. He is a chef, from a farming family, and the couple rent the farmhouse at Ballarie, which had been sold off the farm some time earlier, while her grandparents, Ingrid and Sandy Sloss, live in another house, a short distance from the farm.

Jessica sells mugs, coasters, key rings and cushions through her online shop, Facebook and Instagram and through a shop and a hotel on Arran. She has also taken stalls at agricultural shows on Arran and would like to try some mainland shows in future.

“I tried a small craft fair which wasn’t very successful, but at agricultural shows, people want to talk about the animals in my designs and they are interested to hear about the farm. I think it’s very important to educate the public about farming. There is a lot of nonsense and bad publicity in the media.”

Ballarie Designs now has its own printing equipment and Jessica controls the process from sketchpad, through printing to packaging and posting.

“Today, I clipped some stragglers that came in from the back of the hill and when I came in for lunch, I packed up orders to go to the post.”

There is a constant flow of inspiration for future designs, Jessica says: “I have commissions booked up to Christmas, and I’ve started taking some for next year. I’m still hoping for a future in farming but at this moment in time it’s not an easy lifestyle, farmers have had a negative image portrayed of them recently and I want to contribute to changing that image.

“This is where Ballarie Designs came from. I want to create a more positive image for farmers. Yes, we produce animals so that in the end they land on people’s plates, but that doesn’t stop us loving and treating each and every one of the animals well, while we are responsible for them; livestock are a huge part of every farmer’s life.”