Recently, Iowa State University celebrated 10 years of a program that helps women make better farm decisions and manage ag risk while providing a place to connect with other women in agriculture. Annie’s Project, founded by Extension educator Ruth Hambleton, has spread like wildfire throughout the nation. Its careful start with a charter class of 10 women in Illinois has grown to outreach in 27 states. Over a period of six sessions, at three hours each, participants get down to the nitty gritty details of farming…and I don’t mean the soil. Marketing plans, USDA programs, estate planning, financial ratios, and production tools are just a few of the items discussed in detail.
As a proud Annie’s Project participant myself, I hope they threw the program one heck of a party. To those of you considering the program (or wondering why I am so gleefully discussing birthday cake for a “stuffy accounting class”), let me give you my two-cents worth.
First, you’ll quickly learn that you aren’t the only one in the universe being overwhelmed by specialized ag paperwork problems. In fact, the world is full of wives, mothers, sisters, and friends cursing at Quicken’s inability to make an informed judgement call about when it’s safe to buy a new tractor. As in….I wouldn’t mind if a screen popped up with blinking green lights and the words “Buy The Tractor!” I don’t know about you, but I would want to be really, really sure before I made a call like that one.
Second, Annie’s Project starts at the ground level and builds upward. I spent years in college studying Agribusiness, pouring over textbook examples and providing analysis of countless “hypothetical situations.” But believe me, in the real world, when the “situations” are no longer hypothetical and your shirt is on the line, things suddenly get a lot more interesting. Of course, the first step to success in a program like Annie’s Project is admitting where you need help, and that becomes a lot easier when you can look around the room and and realize everyone in the class is there for a similar reason.
Third, when you get women away from the farm and gather them with other like-minded women, don’t be surprised if the classroom takes on a social-gathering, support-group, dinner-party type of atmosphere. In fact, our group’s sessions often involved either potluck meals or – *gasp* – catering provided by a sponsor. Of course, each region’s programming and people may be slightly different on this score, but you can at least count on having the opportunity to build a support network and gain some very good friends.
Fourth, nothing matches the excitement of discovering what your future might hold when you achieve a better understanding of risk and finances. You’ll also learn that people want you to succeed. That is a powerful combination of competence and confidence. In my case, I can now look CSA models in the eye and begin to sort out what might be possible on our acreage without putting the longtime hay production in jeopardy.
Why Annie’s Project Matters
The vast majority of family farms and ranching operations have a woman doing the finances. Can you imagine agriculture without us? There’s a reason that our local bank president took time to visit the class, and it wasn’t a courtesy call. Women are increasingly taking the lead on family farms and throughout the ag industry.
If you are a woman looking for a safe environment to ask questions, find others on the same learning curve, and gain confidence to move your operation forward, then Annie’s Project is for you.
If you’re one of many women who have already participated in Annie’s Project, then I salute you. And I encourage you to tell others why Annie’s Project matters to you. Knowledge is power.
Learn more about Annie’s Project at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/annie/