Couple make plans for life after farming

Cut Knife farmers Bill and Gale Stonehouse made the decision to retire from their farming operation and take up some new activities — hunting and fishing for Bill, walking and crafting for Gale.  |  Shirley Byers photo

Bill and Gale Stonehouse have spent a lot of time lately planning an auction sale.

It’s a big step. They’ve been farming since they were teenagers. Bill was 17 and Gale 18 when they married in 1970 and made their home on the Cut Knife, Sask.-area homestead that his grandfather had established in 1912 and that his mother had farmed since Bill’s father was killed in a farm accident in 1964.

Over the years, the farm increased from the original homestead to six quarter sections devoted to grain with two more sections plus lease land for pasturing a mostly Hereford herd, but later crossed with Simmental.

Bill and Gale got out of cattle in 1980 to free up time to chauffeur their three boys to hockey and to devote more time to their family business — an on-farm butcher shop.

“We had three children, three boys,” says Bill. “They all worked in the butcher shop and on the farm. They started with a few pigs they would feed and eventually butcher and get the money for them.”

Their oldest son, Lorin, had graduated from high school and was working in Alberta when he suddenly died.

Glen, their second son, lived in Switzerland for about six months after high school, then came home to farm with his dad. Their third son, Daryl, took a job with Saskatchewan Wheat Pool after high school and now works for Crop Production Services in Maidstone, Sask. The Stonehouses feel blessed that all of their remaining children and their families live within easy driving distance.

In 2009, Glen wanted to make the farm bigger. “I was kind of at the point where I didn’t want to go that route,” Bill explains. Glen went on his own for a few years farming a combination of his own and rented land. Bill farmed for another four years and then the day of decision came.

“I was doing more than I wanted to do. We couldn’t find help. I had a fellow working for me who was a real good worker. He said one day that he’d need more money or he’d have to quit. I said, ‘then how about you quit and I will too?’

“That year I grew the best crop I’d ever grown in my whole life. And I thought … I’d seen my father-in-law struggle in farming after he got older…. I’d seen some other farmers struggling when they got too old to be good at it any more. I thought, why not quit when I had a great year, instead of quitting when I’m forced to?”

At that time, Glen bought some of the land and took over farming all of it, renting what he hadn’t purchased. Bill continued working part time, breaking up pastureland. It was a way of keeping busy without the stress of farming.

“I did that on my own time … not like seeding or harvest when you have to have it done by this date or that date,” he says.

An older friend, in his mid-70s, worked with Bill on that project. Each year as another chunk of land fell under the plow, his son would add it to the grain farm, and the next year Bill and his friend would take on another chunk.

This went on for four years, at which time the friend was getting tired and Bill was ready for a change too.

“After a while, it was cutting into my away time to come home (from the lake) and do this breaking so at that point, we decided we’d have an auction sale and that’s where we’re at now.

“It’s kind of a tough thing to take and sell what you got ….

“There are memories attached to them and some things you think are real good and you wonder what will happen at an auction sale.

“And just the idea of getting everything ready; I’m not having a real good time with that part but I guess it will be over in the middle of July and it’ll come to an end.”

Glen will continue to rent that land that Bill and Gale have retained, and he will gradually take the entire farm over.

“If it comes to the point that they no longer want to rent it, then if they don’t buy it, I guess we will sell it, and we will hope we have enough money to live on.”

How much is enough? Bill wonders.

“I saw my mother retire with what was a fair amount of money in 1980 or whatever and live for 25 years with that fair amount of money and it turned into not much. It’s hard to know how long you’re going to live and it’s hard to know what stuff’s going to cost in 15 years. I don’t think any of us thought 20 years ago you’d pay $50,000 for a car or truck, but that’s what you pay.”

The Stonehouses decided to consult with a financial adviser recommended by their accountant and feel that was a good decision. They say he reassured them and gave advice to make the decision easier.

As for retirement, Bill says he’s ready. He’s thinking of going back to hunting and trapping, activities he enjoyed as a youngster but put aside as he took on adult responsibilities.

Last year Bill and Gale built a cabin at Healy Lake, Alaska, about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Meadow Lake, Sask. Gale doesn’t hunt or fish but she enjoys the quiet of the cabin and they’ve both taken up cross country skiing again.

“There’s no money in trapping. I’d just like to kind of learn how to do it, live in the north a little, do more fishing,”says Bill.

“As much as anything, it’s wandering around in the North, almost like being a kid again.”

Eleven years ago, Gale and Bill moved six miles down the road and Glen and his family moved into their house. Gale struggled with the changes the move brought about.

Bill was at the farm every day, working. “I moved here and there was nobody. I was used to having my son’s family in the same yard. And with the butcher shop we were sort of the local coffee shop.”

But the butcher shop was closed. It had got to be too much when the kids wanted to start farming. She had actually looked forward to the reduced socializing.

“But when there was just me, I missed them.”

To fill her time, she started educating herself and discovered that she loved learning. Five years after her son, Lorin, died, she became a paramedic and later as she developed mobility issues, branched off into critical incident training, teaching first aid and training to help people cope with loss.

Knowing that fresh air and exercise is invaluable to self-care, she constructed walking trails of one mile and one-half mile around the farmyard and turned a big, old, red hip-roofed barn on the property into a creative expression place — a place where people learn self care while fostering creativity.

Creating amazing works of art is not what it’s about, she explains; it’s about allowing your natural creativity, that you had as a child to come alive again.

Art supplies provided in the loft classroom help to facilitate this process. “Let the emotion come through your hands. Even drawing lines is helpful for calming your mind,” she says.

“After my son died by suicide it was a very big struggle and I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” she says.

“There was shame and guilt and everything else associated with that… I’ve come to terms with that. I have walked that path. I had to learn the hard way, and it is something I can give to others. There isn’t a lot of help for people in that area. That’s what I plan to do with my retirement — just to be a resource for people who find themselves struggling.”

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