Special Annie's Project Graduates Nine Central Iowa Women



AMES, Iowa — Women involved in farm businesses learned about risk management and value-added agriculture at the Annie’s Project workshop sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and held at the Boone DMACC campus. Nine women from Boone, Marshall, Polk and Story counties graduated from the six-week program on Dec. 3.

The highlight of the program was a visit from Ruth Hambleton, the founder of Annie’s Project, and Instructor of Farm Management at Southern Illinois University. Hambleton taught a financial analysis session, encouraging women to calculate key ratios and look for trends over time.

“It was a special treat for us to have Ruth join our class and contribute to the learning,” said Madeline Schultz, course facilitator and Annie’s Project National Co-Director and ISU Extension and Outreach Value-Added Agriculture specialist.

Women added to their business plans throughout the course and printed off the results of their hard work on the final week. Business plans included a business description, operation plan, marketing plan, financials and management plan. Participants focused their efforts on researching and documenting the kind of information that would be most helpful to their unique situation.

Nicole Jonas, of Red Granite Farm in Boone County, said the best part of the course was the jump start on the business plan. "I always meant to write one, but never started it,” she said. “In other classes in the past, we were strongly encouraged to write one, but never forced.”

Lynn Pfantz of Dusty Hill Farm in Marshall County agreed. “The financial part of it was huge. We started our business on a whim and didn’t think about it, we just did it. There was no format for a business plan in classes before. It’s nice to have a template now.”

The Boone offering was a special topics Annie’s Project course designed to meet the needs of women interested in value-added agriculture. The class participants are currently producing or interested in producing: art, niche pork, vegetables, fruits, equestrian experiences, greenhouse/nursery and specialty egg/poultry, as well as the more conventional farm businesses of swine farrowing to finishing, corn, soybeans and hay. Participants had from zero to 50 years of experience with farming and supported each other’s learning throughout the course.

The Annie’s Project course took place in six three-hour sessions. Course curriculum covered five areas of agricultural risk: financial, human resources, legal, marketing and production. Each week, a course facilitator and several guest speakers highlighted a risk management topic. Women participating in the course learned more about:

  • Financial ratios, balance sheets, enterprise budgeting and business planning.
  • Human communication and management styles, and insurance needs.
  • Legal issues, liability, estate laws, property title and employee requirements.
  • Marketing plans and the four-Ps of pricing, promotion, product and placement.
  • Production tools, farmland leasing, Farm Service Agency and other USDA programs.

Ruth Hambleton taught the first Annie’s Project course in 2003. Since then more than 8,000 women in 30 states have participated in this risk management education course. Ruth based the course on the life of her mother, Annette Kohlhagen Fleck. Annie spent her lifetime learning how to be an involved farm business partner with her husband. The challenges Annie faced included three generations living under one roof, raising four children, low farm profitability, changing food-based laws that impacted her farm, and changing farm enterprises. Through it all, Annie kept records and knew the little things like deadlines. When big decisions had to made, Annie was there. She kept the farm business, the family and her marriage running.

In addition to Hambleton, guest speakers for the course included ISU Extension and Outreach specialists — Mary Clancy, Boone County; Andy Larson, small farms; Margaret Smith, value-added agriculture; Kelvin Leibold, farm management; and Barb Wollan, family finance — and Angie Loew, Farm Credit Services of America; Andy Hunziker; Farm Service Agency; Erin Herbold-Swalwell, attorney; Meg Dobson, State Farm Insurance; and Sue Thomas Snyder, Natural Resource Conservation District.

Annie’s Project in Iowa is supported this year by Farm Credit Services of America and the USDA Risk Management Agency grant # 11iE-53102-080.

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PHOTO: Lynne Pfantz, Marshall County; Julia Slocum, Boone County; and Joy Wehmas, Carroll County, review graduation materials Dec. 3.