Embracing the Cycle of Change

Transition is an opportunity for transformation, and transformation is an inherently creative process. This is a time to think big, assess opportunities, and address challenges. It’s helpful to keep in mind that change is inevitable: one way or another, the years pass, and people come and go. 

There are many changes we have no control over; what we can control is how we embrace change, how we choose to see change as an opportunity to pass on what is of value to us, and leave what no longer serves us by the wayside. The most important things that current farmers can pass on – beyond, of course, the land and farm business – are your wisdom and your ideas, your way of being in the world. 

Just like the ecosystems that we work with, farms and businesses have life cycles. There are phases of new beginnings, growth, abundance, disturbance, and even death. Healthy farms ebb and flow through a cycle that allows for adaptation. Here’s one way to think about change and the transition process that can help inform vision setting for both current and entering farmers(1):

  1. Establishing: the start-up phase, creating both physical and business structures on the farm, setting up the patterns of who does what.
  2. Growing: investing, taking new opportunities, finding markets, establishing enterprises, building relationships.
  3. Stewarding: maintaining the business, carrying out routines, a feeling of “this is the way we do things around here” (which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing).
  4. Innovating: entering farmer comes along, may be exploring new ideas, feels that “another way is possible” (which also isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing).
  5. Connecting: as they explore new ways of doing things, entering farmer connects with others, builds a network of support.
  6. Nourishing: entering farmer is gaining skills, testing, gaining experience, exploring the resources required.
  7. Illuminating: entering farmer and current farmer start making it real, they are planning and laying out the future together.

There are a number of other crucial dynamics that need to be thought about in transition:

  1. Composting: the resources, assets of the old business or farm are redeployed into the new one.
  2. Harvesting: learning from the way the land and business have been managed, learning from the previous generations.
  3. Honouring: honouring the current/previous generation, the business and the farm for what it has been and what it has given to future generations.
  4. Transitioning: bringing everyone along, making sure everyone is engaged in this new way of doing things, taking on new roles (current farmer becomes mentor, entering farmer becomes decision-maker).


Reflect on what you’ve learned so far by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Where do you see yourself on this diagram?
  • What has your experience been?
  • Where do you see yourself moving to?
  • Besides the assets and the business, what do you want to pass on to the entering farmer? What would you want to have passed on to you?
  • What don’t you want to pass on? What don’t you want passed on to you?
  • What skills do you think are needed for a successful transition?
  • What value and skills can you bring to the transition process? 
  • What skills are missing from the transition team that will provide support?
  • What areas do you want to work on?
  • What areas do you need help with, possibly bringing in advisors?
(1) Adapted from the Berkana Institute Two Loop Model, Art of Hosting
Continue to To Future Generations: Legacy Letters
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