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Farmers learn to embrace new careers after retirement

A few decades ago, the word “retire” meant to go away, to retreat or withdraw as in battle, or simply to go to bed, as in: “It’s been a long day and I’m exhausted. I think I’ll retire.”

This is retirement as we know it today: “The action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work,” (Oxford English Dictionary).

It’s a relatively new concept and for it, we can thank Otto von Bismarck.

In 1889, Bismarck, German chancellor and prime minister, introduced retirement, providing for citizens older than 70, a state-funded pension. As time went on, other developed countries followed suit.

The Parliament of Canada introduced the old-age pension in 1927.

Other stories in this special feature on post retirement:

At the time when the concept of retirement at a certain age (usually 70) came into being, most people never collected because life expectancy was about the same age.

But during the past 125 years people started to live longer.

In now, in 2017, some people aren’t retiring at all, while others are not staying retired.

According to Statistics Canada, there are more older workers today than ever before. Some are staying at or returning to the workplace because they need to, and some because they want to. Today 3.6 million workers, 20 percent of Canada’s workforce, are age 55 and older, an increase of 1.2 million since 2006.

Farmers are getting older too. The demographic composition of the Canadian agriculture industry is undergoing significant changes as many farm operators approach retirement. The 2011 Census of Agriculture found that farms where the oldest operator was 55 years or older represented more than half of all farms, compared to 37.7 percent in 1991. In addition, in less than one out of 10 farms, the oldest operator was younger than 40, whereas two decades earlier that ratio was about one in four. These two trends were found in farms of different types and sizes in all provinces, according to StatCanada.

Suzanne Cook, social gerontologist, adjunct professor at York University and leader of the Redirection Project, said “Redirection really does reflect … people transitioning into second and third careers.

“They want to be active and engaged. They are expanding their working life, and using knowledge and skills in new pursuits, new occupations, new directions so it is an alternative to retirement,” she said during an interview for the CBC Radio program The Current.

In 1976, Ivan Peterson and his wife, Gail, established their farm, consisting of about 1,000 cultivated acres and about 200 head of livestock in the Hazel Dell, Sask., area. Ivan also taught school full time until 1988 and part time until 2000.

In 2008, the Petersons sold the farm and moved to Sturgis, Sask. This was to be their retirement.

“After one year, I was looking for something to do,” Peterson said. When he saw Saskatchewan Crop Insurance’s ad for a crop adjuster, he applied and got the job.

The next year in February 2010, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance assumed administration of the AgriStability program from the federal government and was looking for people. Again, Peterson applied and got the job.

He worked one on one with farmers helping them navigate the system, attending trade fairs and visiting municipal councils and financial institutions. He worked at this job till September 2016, and loved every minute of it.

“I think the timing was right,” he said. “Sometimes the stars kind of line up…. (I) knew something about agriculture, and I’d been enrolled as a farmer in AgriStability, I knew the ins and outs of the program. If an error was made, I could probably spot it because I like numbers. It involves income tax as well; I have always done my own income tax and a few for neighbours.”

In this third occupation, he said the pressure was off. He didn’t need to do it for financial reasons.

“So, you’re thinking more along the lines, what can I contribute to this program? How can I make it better? And the rewards came from helping people.”

Ivan’s advice to anyone contemplating a career after farming: “When the stars line up, go for it.”

Al Boyko and Helene Tremblay-Boyko, who farm near Tadmore, Sask., haven’t yet retired, but they have started their post-retirement career as activists.

“I guess our approach to the transition of the farm is part of our activism,” said Tremblay-Boyko. “We could just put it up for sale and retire on the money. We could do that but we don’t want to do that. What we’re trying to do then is make the land available. Part of what we’re doing is leaving it in Farmland Legacies,” she said.

A legacy like this involves a land trust in which land is placed, leased and farmed, but can never be bought or sold.

Young farmers can buy a small acreage from the Boykos on which to build a house and then rent the farmland at a reasonable rate

“That’s our retirement income if you like and basically, we are planning to base the rent on our specific needs. It’s not looking at the commercial value of the land or the surrounding rental rates,” said Tremblay-Boyko.

The Boykos see the offer being taken up by young farmers who value sustainable agriculture, but know nothing about farming.

“In our next career, we would be mentors,” said Tremblay-Boyko.

She’s had more time to devote to activism since she retired from teaching but she and her partner remain active on their organic farm where they raise cattle and grow mostly wheat and oats, and occasionally flax and hemp.

Development and Peace, the organization that Tremblay-Boyko works with, has been focussing on agriculture. She was recently elected to the board of directors and the plan for their farm is a perfect fit.

 “When I came back from Paris (for the United Nations Climate Change Conference), I had made up my mind that I needed to continue talking about my experience there in some way and the logical place for me to talk about climate change was how farming relates to it and so I educated myself further on agro ecology and I have since had opportunities to speak about it,” she said.

“We want to stay here as long as possible. Whoever takes over the farm… they’ll want a vacation once in a while. We can check on the cows for them when they take a family vacation.”

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