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Annie's Project, a series of workshops to help women farm business partners build management skills, has grown from an Illinois program launched in 2003 to 28 states. In 2008, it gained an expanded role with the creation of the Annie's National Network Initiative for Educational Success (ANNIES). It is managed by Iowa State University Extension and program founder, Ruth Hambleton.
Annie's Project encompasses five risk-management areas: marketing, finance, legal, human resources, and production.
"The course is about empowering farm women to go out and seek additional networks and information to help them take on more leadership roles," says Madeline Schultz, ANNIE'S co-director.
The workshops are scheduled over six weeks and often are held in the evenings to accommodate work schedules. "Women on farms aren't always available at the same times, so it is flexible," Schultz says.
Sometimes the workshops come together around a theme, such as a niche, value-added agriculture or dairy. "We're continuing to work on developing new courses and topics," Schultz says.
Annie's Project also is evolving to offer Level 2 programming, so that women who have taken the basic Annie's Project class can engage in more in-depth learning about marketing, financial records, leasing land, and retirement and investment planning.
Annie's Project is taught by local Extension educators in many states, and also is coordinating with other organizations to present classes, including Montana Wheat Growers and Arkansas Women in Agriculture.
Cynthia Berning (shown above right) and Alberta McConnel (left) met during an Indiana Annie's Project workshop sponsored by Purdue University.
Berning, who was raised on a farm and is married to a dairy producer, keeps the books. She attended Annie's Project for one major purpose.
"I want to be sure I know what to do on our farm in case something unexpected happens," she says. "Some of our children are counting on the farm for their futures."
McConnel inherited farmland from her parents but had no farm background.
"Three of us in my class weren't farmers," she says,. "I was interested in finding out more about marketing grain, and the presenter really brought it down to our level," she says. "I also learned a lot about estate and tax planning."
McConnel says she also learned a lot from Berning and other women farmers in the class.
Jodi Heath, commodity manager for POET Biorefining in North Manchester, Indiana, was one of the presenters.
"There aren't a lot of women grain merchandisers in the industry," Heath says. "So if I can teach other women, I want to do that."
New research reinforces that social connections and support are key to reaching women who own land.
Learn more about Annie's Project. Visit www.extension.iastate.edu/annie or call 515/294-2136.