Rules of transition, and when to break them

Well-known coach and columnist addresses Women for the Support of Agriculture

Farmer and farm transition counsellor Elaine Froese has a list of truisms she shares in regularly published columns and at meetings with farm organizations.

The expression, “where is it written that…” is one of them, such as: “where is it written that a farm woman must have a garden?”

Another is, “comparison is a joy-stealer.”

As for Froese personally, the words “may I make a request?” made a huge difference early in married life, when her father-in-law began speaking to her, turned his back and began walking away and continued speaking to her.

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“May I make a request that you look at me when you speak to me?” she asked. Her father-in-law never did the same again.

Recently, though, before an audience of farm women in Stratford, she admitted she has now gone against one of her most oft-repeated pieces of advice.

“I’ve broken the half-mile rule.”

Why it matters: Clear communication of expectations, timelines and boundaries is crucial to successful transition of farm assets and businesses from one generation to the next.

Froese, a partner with her husband in a seed production farm in southwestern Manitoba that’s in the process of ownership transition to her son and daughter-in-law, had surprised event organizer Gerda Schryver a few days earlier by sending by courier hundreds of copies of her 2014 book “Farming’s In-Law Factor,” written with Manitoba-based conflict resolution specialist Dr. Megan McKenzie.

Each of the almost 200 attendees at the Huron/Perth and Oxford County chapters of Women for the Support of Agriculture (WSA) received a copy.

Then, early in her presentation, she surprised the audience by admitting the family has changed plans from what she wrote in the book that stated that she and her husband would move off the farm in 2020. Instead, she broke a rule — expressed on numerous occasions as “a half-mile or a thick bush between family farmhouses” — and decided to build a new home within earshot of the existing farmhouse.

“My little grand-daughters are going to grow up across the tree line from their grandmother,” she smiled. She quickly added, however, that she and her daughter-in-law “have a rock-solid relationship. We can talk about things and we make quick repair.”

As well she said boundaries are respected. “I would never, ever go to her house without texting her first to ask if it’s a good time.”

According to Schryver, the WSA has wanted to hear in person from Froese, the recipient in January of this year of 4-H Canada’s inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award, for some time. In presenting the award, 4-H Canada noted that the well-known farm media columnist “is best known for her work as a farm business coach, where she has supported thousands of farm families through transition.”

Event organizers noted Froese’s background and message mesh with WSA’s mission: “To educate and support farm women and their families for the betterment of themselves, their industry and their community.” Educational and social programming hosted by WSA runs from September through April, with further information available at www.womenforthesupportofagriculture.org.

Froese also had the audience laughing frequently, including when she stopped mid-thought during a section about relationships with in-laws and observed, “I know some of you are sitting beside your mother-in-law right now.”

Following the event, Schryver expressed gratitude for Froese’s ability to connect with the organization.

“Farming is a way of life but it’s also a commitment that comes back every day,” she said, in the form of calves being born, eggs to be collected, and meals to be prepared for family members spending long hours on planting or harvest. When it comes time to talk about transition, stress can be pushed to uncomfortable levels.

She said when the kids want to take over the farm, parents want to give them a chance and Froese’s wisdom will hopefully help many in the audience work through that process.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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