History doesn’t tell us who first uttered this age-old quote, but for centuries it has remained a statement of truth for many, including the founders and participants of Annie’s Project.
Annie’s Project, or rather Annie’s National Network Initiative for Educational Success (ANNIES), was founded by Ruth Hambleton, daughter of Annie Fleck, to bring financial security and well-being to women in rural communities where food, feed, fiber and fuel production are identical with family farms.
The project is based on the life of Ruth’s mother, Annie, an Illinois woman who spent a lifetime learning how to be a successful business partner with her husband on their family farm. Characteristic of farming women, Annie faced challenges within their business and also kept the normalcy of family life running daily.
“The mission of Annie’s Project is to empower women farmers and ranchers to be better business owners and partners through networks and by managing and organizing critical information,” explains Madeline Schultz of Iowa State University Extension and co-director of ANNIES.
“We cooperate with other educators across the nation to develop and deliver more effective risk management educational programs.”
Schultz clarifies that the project began to develop in the year 2003 as a county-to-county-run initiative to improve skills of women agriculturalists in Iowa. After the addition of support from the states of Missouri and Illinois, the program began to gain a network of more than 100 trained extension and professional educators among 28 states, dubbing it a national program.
“The program varies state by state,” offers Schultz. “The core meaning and principles are the same, but each state coordinator must accommodate for their state’s own farming needs. For example, a Midwestern state might incorporate more feed and crop management speakers within their classes versus a state producing more cheese or dairy products.”
The key principles and core values are what make ANNIES consistent throughout the nation. University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability outreach specialist Joy Kirkpatrick heads up the ANNIES programs in her state. “The Annie’s Project courses are so adaptable to our other programs,” explains Kirkpatrick.
“Level-one participants are taught five risk management areas: financial, human resources, legal, marketing and production. Level-two courses teach students in more depth on one particular area.”
Research and history shows that women have not been heavily involved in the major decisions of farming operations, but they are active in the record-keeping and detail-oriented areas. The courses are broken into lectures, hands-on learning and discussion reviews.
“Our participants are eager to try new things and the atmosphere provides a comfortable and secure environment,” assures Kirkpatrick. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve never had to compose a balance sheet or market grain. Participants should feel like they are welcome to ask any question and most of our attendees do.”
Courses are generally spread throughout a couple of days, allowing students to directly apply what they have learned to their own farms.
“We like to incorporate a time frame that’s workable,” comments Kirkpatrick. “Spreading the course out allows more time for absorption of information and participants usually come back the next day with more questions.”
Many ANNIES participants generate a working bond with guest speakers. Local business personnel volunteer their time to the cause and soon develop a mentoring relationship, like Deb Ihm of the Farm Business and Production Management Program at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College.
Ihm says, “I believe we need to reach all individuals on the farm to help them become better farm managers. Annie’s Project provides a unique learning experience – as a technology college instructor, I have learned so much from the ladies that have attended the Annie’s Project programs."
"The relationship created is my key to providing a successful program that provides relevant and current training and other course offerings in the farm business and production management at the college.”
Ihm offers training courses in QuickBooks focused on diversification and value-added farm production. “I am connected first-hand to the students and their farm work,” states Ihm. “Therefore, I am continually updating my curriculum to include the areas of training they need for future learning.”
Other businesses found participating with Annie’s Project are local banks and financial advisers, county extension staff and colleges.
Of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators counted in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, about 30 percent, or more than 1 million, were women. Yet, women farmers and ranchers are an underserved audience as defined by USDA.
“Annie’s project provides a unique learning environment specific for farm women,” expresses Ihm.
Kirkpatrick further explains, “Women have distinct learning preferences that are often not served through traditional farm management education programs.” Annie’s Project courses are meeting the needs of women who want to better manage agricultural risks. PD
Andrea Haines is a freelance writer based in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.