Q&A with Elaine Froese, recipient of the 150 Manitoba Women Trailblazer Award

In late January 2021, Elaine Froese was named a recipient of the 150 Manitoba Women Trailblazer Award, presented by the Nellie McClung Foundation. Posthumously, her mother, Lois Edie, who passed away suddenly in 1998 at age 65, also received the award. As a farm family coach of 30+ years and a farmer from Boissevain, Manitoba, Elaine shares what it means to her to be honoured along-side some truly remarkable trailblazers.

1. What does it mean to you to receive this distinguished award?

Being recognized as a trailblazer is a great affirmation of the decades of work I have done with farm families and the emotional factors affecting transition planning. Sharing trailblazer status with many remarkable women, is humbling and very gratifying. I hope the award will widen the impact of my message for agriculture to create healing stories in farm transition across this country and globally. Farm family coaching was my new approach when I became certified as a coach in 2003.

2. What does it mean to you for Lois Edie, your mother, to receive this award posthumously?

My nomination of my mother was intended for her leadership legacy to be remembered. She would qualify to be a member of the Manitoba Agriculture Hall of Fame. She created Manitoba Farm Vacations, was a powerful president of Manitoba Women’s Institute, meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau during the Charter of Rights years, and she also created the Beef Information Centre for Manitoba. She was the first woman director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers and cared deeply about agriculture policy, all while raising five children and being a farm partner. My mother was a woman ahead of her time in the 70s and 80s, who was also part of the Red River Exhibition Farm Family of the Year in 1974. She worked extremely hard to give me many opportunities to build new skills, travel, and be well-educated. Lois Edie also welcomed 19 trainees from many different countries to be part of the labour at Edie Farms near Dugald, Manitoba.

3. Dr. Megan McKenzie nominated you for this award. Who is she and why did she put your name forward for nomination?

Dr. McKenzie is my co-writer of the book Farming’s In-law Factor and co-creator of the online course “Getting Farm Transition Unstuck.” She holds a PhD in conflict resolution from Trinity College Dublin, and has lived in Boissevain while we worked on writing projects together. She believes that my work is vital for agriculture and knows intimately how I coach farm families. She has a colourful resume of working in highly conflicted areas around the world.

4. How do you serve farm families and those that support them?

I create a safe, respectful space for farm families to get clarity of expectations, certainty of agreements and timelines, and a commitment to action. I relieve the “pain of not knowing” and decrease their anxiety over the uncertainty of their future. We create communication to build harmony through understanding what each farm family member and non-farm heirs are wanting for a successful farm transition. The key challenges are addressed, a team of advisors built, and action steps created to empower the family, build legacy, and be richer in relationships. My message is delivered through speaking, writing, and coaching. I have authored five books, and written in Grainews for over 26 years. I like to say, “counselling is about recovery; coaching is about discovery.”

5. For the past 30 years, you have worked with or coached over 1000 farm families. You have provided them counsel and comfort over the years. What have farm families given back to you in the process?

When I ask families what is the most valuable thing from our interactions they have many responses. They are grateful to voice their concerns with someone who understands the culture of agriculture and someone who has seen many different scenarios and solutions. They feel relieved that they are not alone in their journey and appreciate the empathy and insights of my coaching. They activate new language and get agreements in place which decreases their stress. They show their gratitude in many ways, verbally, in writing, and one person even made me a quilt. Farm families who act to create legacy and rich relationships give me great joy in knowing that my insights and encouragement have made a difference. I have folks in Norway translating my work, a lawyer/dairy farm partner in Mexico working to model my coaching process, and I have trained consultants in Australia. There is much work to be done.

6. After all these years, what remains some of the biggest challenges facing farm families?

Procrastination and conflict avoidance are killing agriculture. Folks don’t have to listen to negative stories, they need to reach out, communicate, and create solutions while appreciating the various perspectives of each person and each generation. The people issues, and the emotional factors affecting planning need to be addressed. If the family circle of the family business is strong, there is a good foundation for management transition and the transfer of wealth and ownership. As independent entrepreneurs, some farmers are reluctant to bring in outside advisors or facilitators. This pride and stubbornness keeps farm families stuck.

7. What gives you hope for farm families today and in the future?

The next generation is keen to learn, network, and invest in advisory services. I am wired as a lifelong learner and take a positive approach, so I always believe there is hope for each family to have a successful transition journey if everyone is committed to new skills, language, and behaviour. The next generation is well educated and thankful for the founders who are willing to share their knowledge, and share decision making and control of the business. Agriculture is an exciting sector to grow with, there are many tools and advisors to help the process, folks just need to be willing to engage. People are now more mindful of mental health, and the need for better financial skills and risk management. The future is very bright as farmers are great at innovation and adaptation. They need to pay attention to have a learning growth mindset for dealing with people.

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