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Froese: Housing hassles on the farm and how to navigate them

Problems can arise when farm founders are thinking about how long to stay on the main farmyard

A distraught middle-aged farm woman asks for advice on buying her daughter a farmhouse just down the road. This is a loaded question. When farm founders are considering how long they want to stay on the main farmyard, there can be lots of conflict and frustration. I suspect the mom’s plan was to have “switch of homes,” but I am not sure everyone shared her enthusiasm.

“Dad grew up in this house, he has lived here all his life, it is all he knows!” Yes there is a deep emotional attachment to your family of origin. Women find this interesting to process as they were uprooted the day after their wedding (unless of course, they are the successor). I am not downplaying this issue. I want you to consider the family circle’s needs. The spouse who is tired of living on the main yard where the bulk of daily farm decisions are made is likely ready for a quieter lifestyle. They also may want a smaller, easier, more up-to-date space to keep clean. According to the Globe and Mail there are new businesses created to help aging couples get rid of their stuff, and the mementos that their adult children forgot to move out of the family home. Overwhelm is a paralyzing emotion.

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In order to move to something you often have to create space for the event to materialize. You might also want to hang farm pictures in the farm office, away from the family home. The artifacts with deep meaning can move to the new parental home, and others can have a place of honour at the main farm. I’ve seen B.C. families create a family room over the garage or as a separate building where many loved items are displayed for all the family to enjoy.

If Dad cherishes his relationship with Mom, he may also consider that it is now her turn to “get what she wants.” This is not popular with either spouse who doesn’t have the emotional capacity to consider what the other spouse needs from them to be happier.

“Mom is widowed, but she is staying put to tie quilts and tend to her perennial garden and raspberries!” Gardening is a great activity for health, and well-being. Where is it written that if you move you can’t still have access to the farm garden? Or maybe you’d have more fun now doing a community garden in your new condo in town. In 2008 a group of us built at 19-suite apartment one-level complex in our town. We thought folks would be grateful to not do yardwork, but the amazing thing is the garden tends to increase in size each year. The yearning to watch things grow and harvest the fruits of your labour doesn’t change when you leave the farmyard. If you are staying put to tend your flower beds, this likely will shift in the next decade, so are you willing to put a timeline on the date you will be moving to an off-farm location? My garden is 30 per cent the size it once was. Now I have a dream and goal to teach grandchildren the love of spinach and cherry tomatoes.

“You can take the farmer off the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the farmer!” As farmers, it’s efficient to be close to the livestock that needs daily care, and be able to close grain bins fast in poor weather, as well as monitor the fans. You really need to ask the founders what a good day on the farm looks like to them. One farmer who now visits his former yard takes great delight in meeting his son for management meetings in the farm shop, and checking the list on the whiteboard for jobs he’d like to tackle that day. Maybe Dad is hesitant to move because he will miss the shop too much. Our condo complex has a workshop with tools to help encourage the fix-it people to have a place to create and be handy. Older farmers who are now reinventing themselves as the hired help again gain energy when they can trust the work on the farm is getting done, and they are not close by to inspect work progress.

I have seen families build a granny suite to the home to accommodate parents living on the farm well into old age. In Ontario this is a workable solution or living on a nearby small farm, yet someone still has to do the yardwork, and plow out the driveway. Each family has to collaborate their decision-making and adapt to changing needs.

“Mom needs to have her office space in her house to do the farm books!” Newsflash: you can do farm books digitally from a distance. You can also start mentoring a new bookkeeper and plan for a farm office that is not connected to a personal dwelling. (An ATCO trailer?) This increases the professionalism of the business system and creates a space that non-family employees can also access easily. It also leads to more financial transparency between the generations.

“How does it feel to build a house on land that you do not own?” The pride and security of personal home ownership is a key goal for the next generation. There needs to be a huge degree of trust and agreement when the parents allow a second dwelling on the same farmyard. I have a “half-mile rule” where I suggest that the in-laws live at least a half-mile apart. We amended this for our own son when his wife asked to live across the shelterbelt, and it works out well as we still have privacy, not to mention a great relationship. I was OK about not leaving my home of 38 years, and don’t get house envy except when I watch too much HGTV. You don’t want volatile family dynamics with housing that is close by. There are also tax implications with assessments, so check out the financial ramifications with your accountant. Inter-spousal agreements should also be considered. If the couple next door divorces, is the non-farm spouse forced to move? Yikes. Couples should understand the legal implications of a split when their home is built on land owned by a farm corporation. And there is also lots of discussion about who pays for renovations — the farm, or you personally?

Ask. Don’t assume. Create solutions together. Abide in peace.

Elaine Froese helps families talk about tough issues. She is living out farm transition challenges happily with her husband and family next door near Boissevain. #healingstories4ag. [email protected]

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Elaine Froese is a certified farm family coach and farm partner. Seek her out at www. elainefroese.com or call 1-866-848-8311. Buy her books for your mom. Share your stories of how these phrases have impacted you. Elaine wants to hear from you on Facebook at “farm family coach” or Twitter @elainefroese.

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