AMES, Iowa—Annette “Annie” Fleck never knew the legacy she left behind—that more than 2,000 farm and ranch women benefit from her struggles and success in managing the family farm.
Nearly five years ago, Annie’s daughter Ruth Hambleton, an Extension educator in Illinois, wanted to design an educational program for farm women, an underserved audience. “I closed my eyes and saw what Annie did—record keeper, money manager, farm laborer, mother, wife and marketer—and I asked myself ‘what did Annie need to support herself in all those roles?’”
Hambleton drew on the best of many programs for the final product—Annie’s Project. It’s an agriculture business course in risk management focused on women. The program brings women together to learn the financial skills and critical information needed to manage the complicated business of running a farm or ranch.
From its inception in rural Illinois, Annie’s Project has grown to reach more than 2,000 women in an ever-growing list of states including Iowa and Missouri in 2004, then reaching into Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In early 2007 the program will spread to Ohio and Oklahoma.
Tim Eggers, an Iowa State University (ISU) Extension educator, said he first looked at Annie’s Project “with the notion that it would be a small program we could add to our mix.”
After only two years, Eggers called Annie’s Project, “the most rewarding program I've worked on in my 10 years with ISU Extension. The learning environment is safe and fun. It is the only program for which clients have registered before knowing the site, location, date, or time of the meetings."
Annie's Project is successful because women immediately have tools to increase their business understanding and to use for farm management, Eggers said. Women also relate to Annie Fleck’s story. She was a small-town girl who grew up to be a teacher, who married a farmer and lived with her in-laws. She kept the farm records, which were critical for the tough management decisions that eventually led from financial hardship to financial security.
Women taking the course have a wide age range that gives older women, who often have life experience, and young women, who have computer and technology skills, a chance to share.
To maintain a comfortable and highly interactive environment, class size is limited to small groups of 10 to 12. Program topics usually are taught in six three-hour sessions.
One Missouri woman said that the best part of the course was in knowing that she was not alone. She considered her questions to be stupid, until she heard everyone else asking the same thing.
Typical course content, according to Hambleton, includes financial education; ownership issues like joint and sole ownership and titles; risk management, life and property insurance and the use of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. After the Excel training, women move on to Farm Analysis Solution Tools (FAST), a software program that deals with what the financial figures mean by pointing out key ratios to watch.
The course content differs from state to state. Hambleton doesn’t mind. “I am Extension, and Annie's Project will be taken by another person in Extension in another state and modified in a way to make it successful for that location.”
Hambleton knows that “at the core of any Annie's Project will be a woman who says "finally, someone who understands me."
Find information about Annie’s Project in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma at /annie/.
Nebraska information is at http://wia.unl.edu/programs/annies.html.