John Vandercoevering began planting for retirement in 1986.

While others were following a traditional path of saving and investing, Vandercoevering and family planted hazelnut trees on their twenty-acre plot.

Then an engineer who worked for manufacturing, oil exploration and high-tech companies, Vandercoevering commuted to Portland (and later to Hong Kong) and ran his own company before retiring in 2005 to become a full-time farmer. Today he has 3,800 hazelnut trees on thirty-five acres. Now, 59, he is down to his college weight.

“All of life’s priorities change when you’re not in Corporate America,” Vandercoevering says. “I plan my day and then do it rather than having it planned out for me three or four months in advance—whether I spend it with my grandkids, fish or work in the orchard.”

Vandercoevering and his wife, Janis, run the business by themselves. The most labor goes into tree pruning in December and January. Unlike most trees, hazelnut trees grow yearround. They don’t go dormant in winter and bloom in January.

The couple harvests the nuts in just three days in the second week of October, with Janis operating a sweeper her husband designed and built onto a John Deere tractor.

“She calls it the ‘Jan Deere,’” says Vandercoevering.

Janis compares the couple’s twenty-three years of retirement planning to Johnny Cash’s lyrics: “One day I devised myself a plan that should be the envy of most any man. But I figured I’d have it all by the time I retired. I’d get it one piece at a time.”

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