women in ag

Annie's Project using education and networking to empower women in agriculture

“It helped me understand where my niche is and how I can best be a contributing member of our family farm."

After learning about Annie’s Project on Facebook, Grady County producer Ashley Freeman Shook decided to participate in the educational program for farm women for two simple, but important reasons.

She wanted to learn and she wanted to connect with other women in agriculture.

Shook did both as one of 18 participants from Grady, Caddo and four other surrounding counties who completed the six-week class offered through Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension in March and April 2017.

OSU's Rodney Jones leads an Annie's Project session on developing business plans

“I went into the program hoping to learn anything that could help our operation. I felt every meeting with Annie’s Project was educational. My favorite topics were legal issues and recordkeeping,” Shook said. “Not only did I gain knowledge from the speakers, but also from the ladies in the class. It was so nice to get the opportunity to learn how other families keep records. We each had something we could offer to the group that could help. It was really nice!”

National in scope – Annie’s Project is offered in 33 states – the program’s mission is to empower farm women to be better business partners by focusing on fostering strong problem-solving, recordkeeping and decision-making skills.

The program is based on the life of an Illinois woman, who grew up in a small town and wanted to marry a farmer. Annette Kohlhagen Fleck spent her lifetime learning how to be an involved business partner with her husband and family.

Her daughter, Ruth Hambleton, created Annie’s Project based on her observations of the needs of the farm women she knew.

Annie’s Project debuted in Oklahoma in 2007, after a county Extension educator saw a presentation about the program at a national risk management education conference.

“We had done some programming for women in agriculture through statewide conferences in earlier years and this seemed like a natural complement,” said Damona Doye, associate vice president of Oklahoma Cooperative Extension. “We invited Ruth and some of the other early founders of the national Annie’s Project to Oklahoma to provide in-service training for educators, and it took off from there.”

Since the program’s introduction in the state, 230 Oklahoma women have benefitted from Annie’s Project.

The workshop series is offered upon request through Oklahoma Cooperative Extension.

Sara Siems, OSU Cooperative Extension assistant state specialist, said while attendees indicate the class gives them more confidence in many areas of their farm or ranch business, a lot of participants report enhanced financial management skills.

“With the curriculum heavily focused on financial management, most participants report making changes to their financial practices in order to improve the profitability of their operations,” Siems said. “Some of these practices include implementing a recordkeeping program, utilizing budgets and developing an estate plan.”

This was certainly the case for Shook, who runs a cow-calf operation in Ninnekah with her father, while her husband and father-in-law also manage a cow-calf operation and raise show cattle.

“Today our operation is better managed by better records. We also have taken the time to talk about ‘what if this happens.’ We have a plan for several scenarios,” she said. “I feel more confident about the farm’s future after attending Annie’s Project.”

Susan Routh, Grady County Extension Family and Consumer/4-H Youth Development educator, said the feedback from the program has been very positive.

“Farm risk management, household financial management and family communication skills are critical to the success of farm families,” Routh said. “Providing tools and education to help manage these variables empowers farm families, particularly farm women, as decision makers.”

That’s certainly true for past Annie’s Project participant Jamie Harrison of Marlow, who came out of the experience with newfound knowledge and confidence in her role with her family’s operation.

“It helped me understand where my niche is and how I can best be a contributing member of our family farm,” said Harrison, also completed the program in 2017 in Grady County. “It has opened up communication within my family and we will continue to adopt new ideas in the future that likely originated from what was learned in the Annie’s Project program.”

The fourth-generation producer with a cow-calf, stocker cattle and alfalfa/wheat hay operation became familiar with Annie’s Project when she attended the 2016 Oklahoma Statewide Women in Agriculture and Small Business Conference.

“I was amazed to learn there was an established program that could help me with many of the issues I faced as a young woman who married into an agriculture-oriented family,” she said. “The curriculum is so diverse within the course that I was confident it would help me to better understand how to be a contributing member to our family operation.”

Confident everything the course covered would have tremendous value and application to her situation, she didn’t go into the program with any preconceived ideas about what she wanted learn.

Above all, she was interested in meeting other women in and around her area with whom she could connect.

“The key takeaway from the course is not only the value of the information provided, but the bond built by the attendees who completed the program together,” she said.

For more information about Annie’s Project in Oklahoma or nationally, visit www.agecon.okstate.edu/annie or www.anniesproject.org and contact the nearest county Extension office.

TAGS: Farm Life
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