By ANN HINCH
COLUMBUS, Ind. — Some farm women want to make their operation more successful; others want to work on family relationships that affect the business, and there are those who feel they need to improve both.
There are also women married to farmers who want to work at something besides agriculture, for themselves.
In 1978, Elaine Froese moved to southwestern Manitoba to work in local rural extension. The Canadian met and married a local farmer; on her wedding day she wore a veil she’d made herself for $10, trumpeting her own frugality.
In front of a gathering of about 200 attendees of the Purdue University Women in Agriculture’s annual conference last month, she unpacked the same veil from a small box and held it up as she began her keynote comments.
“When we put on this veil,” she said to the other farm wives, “and we come to the altar, and make a commitment … do we know what we’re getting ourselves into?”
This and a fair amount of other humor punctuated the rest of her talk, but her point was serious about “Living an Intentional Life.” In Canada, she said the average age of a widow is 56; in the United States, it’s 55 – her own age.
Fortunately, her husband is still alive and well, and the two work his family’s fifth-generation farm, which includes a certified seed business.
But, she pointed out her life or anyone’s can change in an instant. “Why should we live an intentional life?” she asked, in talking about setting goals and working on them. “Because we don’t know when it’ll end.”
Years ago, Froese began to help other farm families she knew that were having problems and, 10 years ago, she became certified as a farm family business coach. Her talk in Columbus was focused on the state of mind one needs to work with in order to be happier and more productive – if that’s the end goal.
In itself, hard work is no longer a guarantee of financial success, so she tries to help farmers see how they can adjust to changing business models that take other factors into account. Her job is to make clients answer “what do you want?” “what do you need to learn?” and “what do you choose to act on?” for themselves.
Women, particularly, need to become involved in their farms’ business if they aren’t already. She pointed out some special problems they may face – such as the client who didn’t know how she and her husband were supposed to approach her mother-in-law with a proposal to take over the family farm, even though they’d been working it for decades; or dealing with non-farm siblings when participating in a succession plan.
Or, there are farmers who let the business consume them to the exclusion of the other important parts of their lives – fun, family, friends. “Have you let your farm become a monster?” she said she’s been known to ask. “Does the business serve the family, or does the family serve the farm?”
In one memorable instance of an older farmer selling the property to save his marriage, she recalled him explaining, when questioned, “I love her more than I love the farm.” In other situations, such as dealing with in-laws over the family farm business, she encourages women to not avoid confrontation – but to be respectful and direct in facing it.
“All of you, as farm women, have a voice,” Froese reminded the conference attendees – and need to use it, whether it’s in running the farm, or at the kitchen table during estate planning or in the ag business boardroom.
Sometimes, successful people go through a slump. She described its four cyclical stages as The Renewal Cycle: “go for it,” or a period of stability and success; “doldrums,” which is just what it sounds like, complete with disenchantment, anger, feelings of being trapped; “cocooning,” or introspection and quiet recovery; “getting ready,” which is coming up with ideas, networking, taking risks and learning; and back into “go for it” to try again.
“There’s probably nothing I’ve told you today that you don’t already know,” she said, closing her remarks. “I’m just reminding you.”
Froese offers her coaching services in Canada and the United States. To learn more about her work, call toll free 866-848-8311 or visit www.elainefroese.com