Different, Not Less – How having two children with autism changed my journey in primary producer agriculture.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
My wife and I took the road less traveled by – it just wasn’t by choice.
When I left public practice as a CPA to join the family farm, I believed this was my last career choice. I had done everything that was expected up to that point. Got an education, an accounting degree, moved to the big city (Calgary), and got real-world experience.
It wasn’t for me.
Like many before me, I wanted the house on the hill and the white picket fence.
Now, I was not a “farmer” in many senses of the word. I knew little about agronomy, and honestly don’t hand me a wrench because I will just hand it back. However, I knew business and I loved the industry because of what it represented. This is where I was going to make my stake in the game, I was going to take the business aspects of agriculture and try my hand at entrepreneurship. Plus, I got to work every day with my father – something that was a large bonus in my eyes.
During the move into our farmhouse, my wife was pregnant with our first son Ashton. Just married, new house, new career, new child, high stress. As most young farmers find out, stress and mental health are a large concern in agriculture. But moving away from the 9 to 5, everything we did was worth it.
For the first couple years we were sure we were on the right path. We had a growth mentality and I had thrown myself into loving entrepreneurship. I won because of me, and I lost because of me. What more could you ask for?
Then came the curve ball.
While my wife was pregnant with our second son Trystan, Ashton was diagnosed with autism after his second birthday. Looking back, we knew something was different, but I was oblivious at the time being a new parent. The initial shock is always the worst, but then you hit fight-or-flight and begin planning what’s next.
The original thought was that we could make it work on the farm, we were wrong. Between the lack of services, the long distance between Saskatoon and the farm, and the financial costs of therapists and early intervention, we came to the same conclusion. We needed to be back in the city.
Many would say selling the family farm would be the worst day of your life. It wasn’t. We knew as parents what had to be done, and my parents were so supportive. Within six months of harvest, we had liquidated the assets, inventory, land, and residences, and within twelve months all of us were back in the bustle of city life. I returned to my CPA job and Ashton began utilizing the services for Autism that we desperately needed.
Along came the second curve ball.
Our second son Trystan was born right before we finalized the move to the city. More experienced, we saw the signs earlier with our second child. He was diagnosed at under eighteen months (one of the youngest ever diagnosed in the province). This time we were more prepared and being in the city allowed us to get him into early intervention services much faster. For anybody facing these situations, the faster you act the better. Most wait in denial while the situation gets worse. Act early, act quickly.
So where is the road less traveled by?
A decade after Ashton was born, I am once again back in primary producer agriculture. I get to rely on my unique ability now, and let much smarter and more experienced people handle the agronomy and mechanics. In 2019, I took on the role of Chief Financial Officer at Hebert Grain Ventures with one of my oldest friends, and now business partner, Kristjan Hebert. For this I am ever grateful, and in 2021 I became a partner in the operation. I can once again say that I am a farmer, I just get to do it with less individual stress and a strong team.
Different, Not Less.
A phrase touted by the autism community and created by Dr. Temple Grandin (a successful inventor, author, and speaker with autism). In our situation I always felt this applied in every aspect of our life. From CPA, to farmer, to CPA, to CFO, to farmer, and now to coaching and consulting. I like to think I’m doing it differently than most, and in all honesty, this makes me prouder than taking the path most traveled. Without our boys, I am not sure what life would have thrown at us, but I know that with our boys we are currently more blessed than many.
I will always remember the sleepless nights, numerous therapist and doctor appointments, and many uncomfortable conversations with family and friends. But I will also remember the good things. Ashton still likes combine rides better than iPhones, Trystan would take tickles over new toys any day, and I look at things differently than most because of my experiences.
It’s the small things that count, and that has made all the difference.