Elaine Froese grew up on a farm, lives on a farm and understands agriculture, and now she works with families in business, coaching the next generation of farmers. She spoke to guests at the Purdue University Women in Agriculture conference luncheon about living an intentional life of balance in a complex world.
Elaine Froese grew up on a farm, lives on a farm and understands agriculture, and now she works with families in business, coaching the next generation of farmers. She spoke to guests at the Purdue University Women in Agriculture conference luncheon about living an intentional life of balance in a complex world.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Plant the seeds, milk the cows, mow the grass, spray the weeds, attend farm meetings, cook dinner, sleep, wake up and do it all over again.

Sometimes being a farmer, farmer’s spouse, family member or caregiver is just about being, echoed Elaine Froese, a speaker and writer on the keys of balanced living in a complex form.

An active farm partner in her family’s certified seed business in southwestern Manitoba, Canada, who handles plenty of off-farm demands, she spoke to a large group of women at the Purdue University Women in Agriculture Conference about strategies for living a balanced life.

Froese began writing and speaking about balanced living in a complex world in 1987, though she traced the path that led to her becoming a sensei back to her experiences in 4-H around age 9.

One of the central pivots of her talk was that farm women especially must make time for themselves and put their wants and needs into action.

“Many of you are here because you are exhausted — it’s February, and it’s almost planting season,” she said. “You may leave the conference with many ideas, but will it make a difference? There’s an old Chinese saying that talking doesn’t cook rice.”

Farmers face many different driving challenges on their farms and may feel they must keep their problems secret, face unaffordable lifestyle pressures, be too busy with community to have time to plan, juggle job and farm work, fear a forced exit and cope with fragmented family life, all of which can make them feel the crunch, Froese said.

Sometimes they are involved in a farm family conflict or are facing challenges around farm succession planning, she said.

Froese reasoned that the goals of success, security, happiness and progress are not linear.

“A lot of people want to be going forward in their farm role, but we’re all unique, and what works for me may not work for someone else,” she said. “All of you as farm women have a voice.”

Froese cited the birth of her daughter as a turning point in her life, during which she struggled with one of the worst cases of postpartum depression her doctor had ever witnessed.

“We have many hats to wear in managing life’s roles, from the personal to the couple, family, friends, work, farm business and community,” she said.

Froese donned the wedding veil she made in 1981 during the talk, joking that she has used it to deter mosquitoes when picking raspberries in the garden. She regards it as a symbol of her frugality, she said.

The presenter was surprised to learn from an audience poll that many women considered themselves to be in the cocooning phase of the cycle of renewal, in which they are focusing on spiritual renewal, growing themselves, finding a new sense of purpose and inner peace while participating in new training, counseling, spending time with friends or transitioning jobs or engaging in hobbies and interests.

“In a North American country, there is the attitude that people who turn inward are withdrawn or weird, but this is much to be learned from introspection,” she said. “I don’t answer my cell phone on Saturdays and Sundays, and I don’t sleep with it.”

She said her passion is to work on the Froese Farm and help see it through its challenges to a happy future.

“We each have our own unique skills and talents we can bring as farm women,” she said.

“Make sure that in addition to all your professional plans for the farm and your family that you are making time to have fun. Also, keep a stash of almonds, granola bars, baby carrots or other food and snack often.”