Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Ex-Farmer Talks About Leaving Farming, Going To College

September 4, 2000

North Dakota State University Extension Service invited a number of ex-farm couples to come and describe their experiences about leaving farming. I was a discussion leader for a table that discussed transitions and careers. Here are excerpts from one woman’s perspective on what she learned and experienced about leaving the farm and going to college.

What challenges of growth and change came about as a result of leaving the farm?

I grew up on a farm and married a farmer. You do not see any other way of life. You don’t dream of being something else. It just never enters your mind that you are going to someday be off the farm or doing something else.

I’m 44 and I think when I was 35 I didn’t even know any of this was going to happen. Well, when that happened (leaving the farm) a decision as major as getting off the farm makes it so much harder. When we went to make the decision, I remembered telling a therapist years ago for another crisis we went through, "I feel like I am going to die if I make this decision. I feel like I’m going to die if I change. Or if I talk about this I’m going to die. You’ll fall off a cliff or something that is hard." What she said is that you just have to move through it, don’t stay right there, just keep moving through it.

And so then my husband and I one night were talking and we couldn’t, we would no longer say, "Boy it just can’t get any worse than this." We quit saying that and we talked about it and decided what would be the right thing to do. We would make the decision instead of the banker. That way we our still have our self-esteem.

One time, I had been laid off at my place of employment. I know what it is like for them to make that decision. I mean all it was was a part-time job and it just about killed me. It was real hard on me. I get a lump in my throat because it wasn’t my decision. I thought it meant something was wrong with me.

Ok, at that point we decided to get out of farming. We didn’t know how or didn’t talk about how. We didn’t know who to go to, how to do this. What do you do? Who do you call on the phone? We didn’t even know where to turn. And we knew that it was happening to people all over. But do we call them and ask them? Or do they think we are nuts for asking how do you get out?

That was the challenge, but when we made that decision, I had the best night of sleep I had for years. I’ll never forget how good it felt to go to bed and have that huge dread off my shoulders. I don’t know how my husband felt, but it was difficult for him.

I think really that I was the stronger one in this situation and I pulled him through it. And after he got through it he said, "Boy this is really nice." I was thankful I was able to pull him through it. I thought about farm wives and farm husbands who don’t have a relationship and wonder how they survive. I can’t imagine it.

If you had no idea of another life, what helped you find out about another world out there?

I didn’t know that college was for me. I thought college was for people who were real, real, real smart. For people who knew every word in the dictionary. I really did. What I did was I decided to go to college and I went through all the stomach pain and terrible anxiety. My husband had to literally have to help me to the door to make that big step. All I did was make the decision and I did what that wonderful person said years ago to do - just keep moving through it and don’t stop. And I just kept moving through it.

So some good advice is to do something and things will start to fall into place later?

Yes, just keep moving, to keep going forward and make the decision and go through it. What happened is life outside of farming embraced me. I have really been helped tremendously. There is so much support out there. I thought it was really odd that at my age I would be going to school.

Everyone has been so happy for me. My biggest worry was I was too old to learn. I learned in sociology that our ability to learn peaks in our forties and doesn’t even start to go down until we are in our 80s. When I heard that in class, I was thrilled. I was ready to learn now. So it has been fun ever since. It’s just an open door and since then I’ve grown and changed a lot.

I know there is life after farming. But I do sadly look back on farming. I miss that life.