I’ve been watching something happening these last years, since Robert quit farming, which I think has important consequences for the next generation. It’s not unique to Robert either, which is why I want to pass this on here. He talks about it every so often, and it’s just now, as he tells me what’s happening on this new job, that I realize its potential – the role of mentor. The older farmer has a very key role to play in the lives of younger men (and women).
When it became clear that neither of our sons would come back to the farm, Robert decided he had done his time there too. There were other places and people who could profit from his experience and knowledge, new things to do. For the last seven years we’ve been going to Zambia for three months each year to work as consultants with a group of small farmers in Mpongwe. We’re not quite finished there yet. Looking back, I think the most important times were those spent with individual farmers, in their homes and fields, talking for hours on end, sharing stories and experiences. Farming in Canada is definitely different from farming in Zambia, but the general principles are the same. Not just plant and soil science, but the principles of management – on time, on standard, no wastage, with joy – as we learned in the Foundations for Farming course in Zambia. Going back year after year enabled us, especially Robert, to mentor those he worked with. We didn’t just talk about the farm either, but family and community situations.
In Canada Robert worked for several neighbours, especially during the harvest season. Most farmers make valuable employees. They’re used to working hard, thinking for themselves, and will work as if they owned what they operate. Robert enjoyed the work, liked running big new machinery that he didn’t have to pay for, and not worrying about weather and bills. He also enjoyed meal times, or long chats in the shop with the farmers, where they sometimes talked about more than machinery or weather. It was an opportunity to pass on life experience.
Now, in Switzerland, Robert is working for a friend of our son. Joel spent a harvest season with us on the farm in Canada, so they know each other. Joel started his own business with part systems for conglomerate heating systems, and needed Robert’s ability in mechanical problem solving. Robert loves it. But what he also enjoys are lunch hours spent talking about running a new business, about family and community. Again, it’s an older man sharing his life experience with a younger – a type of Godfather.
I see it happening all over. It could probably happen more. You don’t have to quit farming to be a mentor. You older farmers, men and women, have so much to share with the younger generation. And you younger men and women – don’t be afraid to find a good role model in the older farmers around you. Become their friends, ask for their advice. You don’t have to take it!