A retired Saskatchewan grain grower says leaving the farm was the hardest thing to do when it came time to quit farming
Don Johnson knew that when farming became work, it was time for a change.
The Kipling man rented his first quarter-section in 1969 before he even finished high school and kept farming his commercial grain turned pedigree seed operation until 2000.
There are ups and downs in farming and most of the time one outweighed the other. However, you do have to like it, Johnson says.
“There are a lot of pressures on crop production that you have no control over…. It went from being something that was really, particularly enjoyable every day to being more of just a job. And so at that point, it’s probably better to move on.”
It wasn’t a 30-day process, he says. His father was at retirement age, but he wasn’t. However, he was ready to leave farming behind all the same.
He had two families to consider and a lot of other factors to take into account.
Their two children did not want to farm, and that was easy to accept.
“What was going to make them happy and fulfil their life was more important than whether or not our farm could get to 100 years or 200 years. That stuff really wasn’t part of the consideration.”
What was difficult was physically moving off the farm in 2009. When that is the only quarter you’ve ever lived on, it can be hard to give someone else the keys, says Johnson.
“I suspect that anyone who has sold their home and moved to another one, you’d have the same excitement about going to something different. But there are ties to your home that make it a little more difficult.”
What made it easier was Johnson’s day job. Following his retirement from farming, he started selling farm equipment before fully retiring in 2015.
Now, retirement has become a continuation of activities he has always enjoyed.
Volunteering was something he always saw growing up. Johnson’s grandfather was one of the founding members of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool local and his father was involved in a variety of local boards. People making the community better was something he was made aware of, says Johnson, and he started volunteering in his early 20s and has never stopped. His wide resume includes community organizations, such as the Kipling Memorial Union Hospital, the Kipling and District Road Ambulance, the Kipling Credit Union, Farm Credit Canada’s appeal board, and the Willowdale Lodge Special Care Home. As well, he was the first chair of the Moose Mountain District health board.
By his mid-30s, he was asked to run and eventually was elected reeve of the Rural Municipality of Kingsley for six years. Now he is a town councillor for the Town of Kipling and volunteers for causes in the community.
“Over the years, it’s been very much worth it. You get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
Not only has volunteering given him connections and opportunities, it has also enabled him to contribute to causes he believes in. Hospital and ambulance boards are organizations that impact his life and his livelihood. Why would he not step up and be a part of that, he says.
“I was president of a regional credit union we created. And it’s grown to a $300 million business, and it’s about to amalgamate into one that’ll create a $1.2 billion business. So it’s a logical extension, and having the opportunity to be involved in that kind of stuff is great.”
Communities succeed when citizens step up to the plate, he says, and more young people need to decide to become bigger parts of their community. It can be as simple as coaching softball or joining a service club, he says.
Town and municipal councils are also interesting options for young people and they shouldn’t be afraid of having a say in how their community is run. Retirees have the time to do so, but every opinion counts, says Johnson.
It can get pretty chaotic raising a family but there is a role for everybody, he says, and making a difference is worth it.
While he does not consider himself a world traveller, he has also been able to visit numerous spots across North America throughout his retirement, either through vacations with his wife, or conference travel through the numerous organizations he has been a part of.
“You go to the meeting but you also get to see the sights, whether you’re in Newfoundland or in British Columbia or wherever it happens to be.”
Even though he does not consider himself an extensive traveller and he has never considered travelling as a staple of retirement, the travelling he has done has made him appreciate his home, he says.
“There’s something about standing in front of the temple at Chichen Itza in Mexico and realize that 200 years before Columbus discovered us they vacated the place. It’s an incredible place to stand and see the architecture and the engineering that is left from all that.”
Johnson enjoyed his time as a farmer and a farm equipment salesperson, but no matter what he is doing, whether running for one more term on the Kipling town council, travelling, or visiting his grandkids, he will continue to enjoy his retirement.