Dawn, like many farming women, juggles work in between her day-to-day family needs. She grew up on a farm and married into the farming life but never had any prior experience in the daily management and activities. It wasn’t until her husband, Ed, became the sole owner of Lone Chestnut Farm that she took on a larger role.
“The farm was originally established by Ed’s grandfather sometime in the 1930s,” explains Dawn. “The farm became a partnership between my father-in-law and his brother in the 1970s, where Ed was a full-time employee since his high school years."
"Ed began purchasing his father’s share of the farm in the year 1991.” In 2008, Ed became sole proprietor of the farm after purchasing his uncle’s remaining half and the LLC was instituted. “Ed’s uncle remained on the farm as a helping hand and will be retiring at the end of this year,” she says.
With the farm moving under one name and older family members no longer able to help, Dawn needed an educational resource that would allow her to learn as she goes – and then she found a program known as Annie’s Project.
“I had read about Annie’s Project in one of the farm papers,” Dawn recalls. “I decided to attend the program held in Burlington, Wisconsin, in 2006 and then later on to a second Annie’s Project in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in 2009."
"I had taken over the farm’s basic bookkeeping before ever discovering about Annie’s Project. The books were in ledger form until 2003 and then I moved them to a computer system.”
Dawn had previous experience with bookkeeping from working at a long-term health care corporation, but really wanted a better understanding of agriculture accounting.
“We were also ‘buying out’ my husband’s uncle’s half of the farm and wanted to get a better grasp of what was involved in the transition stage along with the different types of business entities we could establish,” she explains. “Establishing a bookkeeping system on the computer was just one of the long-term improvements needed for the operation.”
Dawn’s participation with Annie’s Project allowed her to achieve more knowledge about employment practices, transitioning needs to the next generation and learning to work and communicate with different personalities.
“One of the main things I struggled with was communication among everyone involved on the farm,” says Dawn. “Through Annie’s Project, I learned to keep in mind that everyone has an emotional attachment to some part of the farm and it’s hard to always picture it as a business.”
Like most participants, Dawn’s husband was very supportive of her decision to partake in the program. “It might come as a surprise, but most spouses urge their wives to participate in the classes,” explains program coordinator Joy Kirkpatrick, outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability.
“They see it as a chance to get a different opinion from an unbiased perspective on how to market products or set up management programs.” So when Dawn became interested in attending a second course, Ed was quite accommodating.
In the first Annie’s Project course, Dawn learned about different types of personalities, basic accounting principles and how to read financial statements like cash flow charts versus a balance sheet.
“Many of the other participants were there for the same reasons I was,” says Dawn. “I felt very comfortable asking questions and trying out the new things I learned in our break-out sessions.”
Dawn was able to go back and incorporate the knowledge learned in class to what she was doing at home. “In the second set of sessions, we covered market research, promoting your small business, grain marketing and human resources.”
She was able to do some mock financial statements, proper hiring and termination of employees and went over employment issues by covering the application process. Dawn further explains, “We were able to market grain in a classroom setting, which was very helpful in introducing the new terminology.”
Dawn was able to bring back helpful procedures to incorporate on her home operation by developing a better employment structure. “The employment section of the course was very helpful. Our farm now has a structured hiring process that includes applications, references and background checks.”
“Most women have a unique learning experience,” states Joy. “Annie’s Project courses support lectures, discussion and hands-on development. Many participants enjoy the company of other participants and rely on speakers and other students for continued support after the sessions.”
Dawn knew some of the participants prior to the schooling, but she sees some of the other classmates at farming functions and keeps in touch.
“The Annie’s Project staff was just amazing. The coordinators were able to get speakers and materials that were relevant and engaging to my own experiences,” tells Dawn.
“I have called upon several of the speakers and staff to answer further questions and give direction when needed. I have also asked for different and additional materials and they are always helpful in accommodating my extra needs.”
Annie’s Project has also helped the Noble family in planning for their future.
Dawn and her husband have a 12-year-old daughter named Jessica and an even younger son named Ean. “Jessica helps us out on the farm when time and school permits,” explains Dawn.
“If the kids wish to continue to take on the farm in the future, I hope to be able to teach them the things I’ve learned. Just knowing the bookkeeping and computer skills will help them in whatever they decide to do.”
Dawn now not only does the books for the business but she also helps milk in their double-eight parallel parlor, feeds calves and drives the combine during harvest season. The herd is housed in a freestall barn and dry cows are in a pasture along with heifers.
“We have around 300 animals total that we care for,” comments Dawn. She also uses her new-found employee knowledge to help her husband manage their two non-relative part-time workers. “I help in whatever capacity I am needed and able to do,” she shares with a smile.
Overall, Dawn has thoroughly enjoyed her experiences with the Annie’s Project program and will continue to participate in future courses. “The Annie’s Project program is an excellent way to meet other farm women around the area who can relate to your own personal experiences,” she says.
“It’s helpful in connecting participants with local businesses, programs and professionals who can help your farm thrive and grow. With the diversity of the group, students are given the opportunity to explore new possibilities for themselves and their farms.
I would surely recommend the Annie’s Project program to women who wish to expand their knowledge of agricultural and business practices.” PD
Andrea Haines is a freelance writer based in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
TOP RIGHT: Thanks to the Annie’s Project program, Dawn can confidently take care of the farm’s bookkeeping and employee management duties.
TOP MIDDLE: Transitioned from earlier generations, the farm that Ed and Dawn Noble own and operate is located in Burlington, Wis. Shown from left to right are: (top) Ed, Dawn and Ed’s parents, Al and Rose with kids, Ean and Jessica.
BOTTOM MIDDLE: With the farm moving under one name and older family members no longer able to help, Dawn needed an educational resource that would allow her to learn as she goes – and then she found a program known as Annie’s Project.
BOTTOM: Dawn hopes to teach her children, like Jessica seen here, the knowledge she has gained. Photos submitted by Dawn Noble.