Visualization technique helps farmers with reinvention

Older producers who are starting to plan life after farming need to determine what a good day on the farm will look like


Planning for life at any age can be a challenge, especially if a farmer’s life is beginning to change as retirement looms.

For Elaine Froese, working with farm couples and their goals for retirement — what she calls reinvention since many farmers don’t actually retire in a traditional sense — is part of her independent business as a farm family coach.

Froese works with farm couples on what their reinvention is going to look like, taking the skills she learned from the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara to help couples plan for their future after farming.

“(These farming couples) have a lot of experience and wisdom. Biblically, it says the older shall teach the younger and I think a lot of farm families would do a lot better in their family dynamic if they gave more respect and appreciation to the elders.”

Reinvention is a conversation for the couple as a whole because dreams of what happens after farm life can look different from either one spouse’s standpoint or another.

Visualization is a big part of the reinvention process that Froese works through with her clients, as people take a look at what they want their reinvention to look like and how their roles are going to change in the coming months and years following stepping away from farming.

Starting those conversations, Froese says the first question that comes up is, “what does a good day on the farm look like to you as you age on the farm? Often, a farmer will say, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

This process can look different depending on who Froese is asking, from farmers listing things that they want to do during their reinvention, to initiating conversations with friends and family, to physically making a visual representation of goals and dreams.

Farm women especially like the idea of vision boards, says Froese — words and pictures cut out to represent what they want to do for their reinvention. Providing this physical representation of what reinvention looks like can help in sharing that vision with spouses and family members.

Men are less likely to want to pick up a pair of scissors and craft their ideas but that doesn’t mean they don’t have “sensitive, empathetic conversations,” says Froese, or make lists about what they want the reinvention to look like.

“The men who are thriving and doing really well are the ones who are very in tune with what their inner world looks like and how they want to connect that with loving, respectful relationships with their family and their business partners.”

There can be conflict when couples don’t agree with what that vision looks like, she says, but that takes having those honest conversations about those visions.

“Quite often women are telling me that they’re tired of their current role, and they want to make some significant shifts, but their spouses do not….There’s another question that I asked to the husband, which is when is it her turn to get what she wants? And they don’t really like that question very much because they’re not prepared to answer,” says Froese.

There are no rules to how people have to spend their life after farming, says Patti Durand, agriculture transition specialist with Farm Credit Canada.

In her work, she has had similar conversations with farm couples about how a successful life after farming looks, financially and personally.

“I’ve talked to more than one couple where one of the spouses loves to travel, the other doesn’t. So they find another travel buddy, a girlfriend or whatever … but you can do that. There’s no rules. Who says you have to spend every waking hour together? You’ve never done it before, why would you start now?”

What do you truly want is an important first question that Froese poses to couples. Being honest ensures those answers are out in the open, she says. For many farmers, farming is their identity so shifting away from that can be a lot of work.

“(Farmers) need to do a lot of inner work around what gives them meaning and purpose and how they’re going to build their emotional support network and also really work some things through about what their identity is based on,” says Froese.

She uses many different visualization tools. A role map, a visual representation of how the couple’s roles may change, is a tool that her clients will put up in a place where they can see it every day as a “rallying cry” for what the next few months will look like, she says.

Froese also uses a “cycle of renewal” map, which is a four-stage quadrant worksheet that breaks the reinvention down into workable parts, from being content with farm life to understanding that it is time to step away from the farm and start the reinvention process.

Mental health is also a large part of this mapping process. Reaching “the doldrums,” a stage that many people are in due to the Great Pause of COVID-19, sees the client address the issues with feelings of depression and being pushed out of the farming business.

“Doldrums happens when farmers feel like they’re being pushed off the farm or that they’re not treated with respect or that they’re actually suffering in actual depression, in terms of not having energy for the roles they’re committed to and not finding meaning and purpose in their current role.”

For some people, getting out of the doldrums means addressing mental health concerns with a professional.

Questioning what would give meaning and purpose in the person’s life and what do they want to let go of and move on from is also part of getting out of this stage and moving on, says Froese.

No matter how farm couples get to that reinvention or what tools they use to visualize and share those goals, they get to choose what makes them happy and fulfils them, she says.

Sometimes when farmers don’t know what they want to do, says Durand, it means that there are some things that never occurred to them as an after farming option.

Visualization can be important in getting those options out for them to realize and share with their retirement team.

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