[photo: man harvesting wine grapes]

American Families

Putting Themselves out to Pasture

Joel and Robin Hasslen
South Haven, Minn.

When Robin Hasslen warned that the pest in her garden was going to be "dead meat," it was no malicious threat, but simply a statement of fact. You see, Hasslen's vegetable-nibbler was a white jumper cow, one of many livestock roaming the farm she and her husband Joel run.

On their hilly, 114-acre Minnesota homestead, the Hasslens raise cattle, sheep, goats, horses and honeybees; butcher their own meat; chop their own firewood; grow their own hay and vegetables; and compost almost all of their waste. Sixty-year old Joel, who also works as a carpenter, said he regrets that he and Robin even have to be on the "power grid" receiving electricity. The self-sufficient couple drives to town to recycle their junk mail in a car Joel repairs and harvests hay with machinery Joel maintains.

When the Hasslens moved to the farm in 1973, the neighbors would have barn-raisings and wood-chopping gatherings. Their house had no windows or doors. They lived in it that way, except during the coldest weeks of winter. Over the years, they've patched it up and added on to it, but they've remained true to the little two-bedroom house that they plan to live out their lives in.

"We are doing 20-year fixes on everything on the house now," Joel said. "Twenty years will take us to the point of ‘I don't care anymore.'"

While many couples nearing retirement plan on moving to easier-to-maintain homes in warmer locales, the Hasslens are looking forward to buckling down on the farm

"Our goal as we get older is to be able to live on less outside resources, so we have the animals and gardens. We're going to develop the gardens more, so we have most of our own groceries," Joel said.

Besides helping with the land and animals, Robin, 62, teaches early childhood education and has taught in higher ed for 25 years. She estimated that her pension should amount to about $300,000.

The couple, married 39 years, have always lived within their means, even when they earned only $2,000 a year from Joel's welding and Robin's housekeeping jobs. They buy used clothes and cars, and the foods they buy at the grocery are always the week's specials. In addition to their frugality, the Hasslens started saving and planning for retirement over 20 years ago. Their diligent planning and thrifty habits afforded them some pleasant surprises when they recently met with a financial planner.

Joel said, "It was an awakening and also a validation of our lifestyle to find out that over the years we haven't made much money, but we are pretty well covered for retirement. I think it is a lifestyle of not spending a lot of money and trying to save that has paid off."

While they're happy that the way they've lived has paid off financially, they're most interested in reverting to the simpler way they lived when they first met.

"We were experiencing a lifestyle of great simplicity and meaningfulness, and we've tried to imitate that in our lives. We have gotten away from that as we have made money. So now that we don't have to be working for a living, we would like to go back and replicate that time," Robin said.

Joel is looking forward to more time with Robin and all the ups and downs of farm life that will keep the couple active.

"A lot of people retire and sit on the porch and say, ‘my goodness – what am I going to do?' It's never an option here. You get up and you do stuff. You got your routine chores and then trees fall down on a fence and those kinds of things," he said.

For the resourceful couple that already cooks their garden pest alongside their garden produce, retirement to the farm can only make life more interesting.

Back to American Families main page

Contact Us Site Map Pressroom WTTW Digital Archives Production Services Corporate Sponsorship PBS 98.7WFMT

Privacy Policy & Terms of Use

©2016 WWCI