August 04, 2021

By women, for women

By Caleb Nelson, Southwest Iowa Ag Mag

Financial documents, dealing with various personalities, making tough ag decisions and more can make anyone scratch their head in the ever changing agricultural world, so a class called “Annie’s Project” was offered this winter by ISU Extension and Outreach in various locations to give women a uniquely designed opportunity to learn some of these topics from other women.

Patrick Hatting, ISU Extension Farm Management Specialist for Central Iowa, facilitated a class in Greenfield. He said the “Annie’s Project” farm business class for women was offered several years ago and officials were very eager to host it again.

Hatting explained that from his perspective, this class is usually popular because of the unique opportunity it gives women to learn with and from each other for the betterment of their family’s farming operation.

“This type of an environment, where it’s a women-centered program with highly qualified professional women taking them through some of these topics and talking to them, it makes the program more comfortable for them,” Hatting said.

Annie’s Project was developed by the University of Illinois Extension’s Ruth Hambleton in 2003 as a tribute to her mother, Annette Kohlhagen Fleck, making a nod to Annie’s entrepreneurship and goal of raising a family and being an active partner in the family farming operation.

More than 33 states have implemented Annie’s Project sites since its inception. According to post-program surveys, participants have reported that the program encouraged learning and that the nurturing environment has facilitated ongoing conversation with local speakers. In addition, respondents were able to network with other professionals and stated that they felt comfortable interacting with others for additional information and assistance. Overall, participants remarked that the courses were beneficial in understanding the factors in farming that pertain to women, their families, and the land.

Jana Scott of rural Orient and Pam Hoffmann of rural Creston are two southwest Iowa women who are examples of those wanting to be an active partner in their family’s farming operation.

Scott ‘didn’t really know where to start’

Scott is currently taking the “Annie’s Project” class while working a full-time job, being a farm wife and mother and serving on her local school board. Hoffmann took the class six years ago, the last time it was offered in this area. She also helps on her family’s farm while being a farm wife, mother and teaching English and Speech at a small high school.

Scott and her husband, Clint, are both from multi-generational farms. They have one son, Craig. Their operation consists of row crop, hay, cow/calf and feeder calf operations and sows that are farrowed out for butcher hogs.

“I have a background in accounting and business, so I knew some of the things I should be doing but I didn’t really know where to start,” Scott said. “I needed some information on where to begin with those financial reports and I wanted to also have an opportunity to network with other farm wives across the state.”

Scott’s favorite night of the class, through the first half of the sessions, had been the first night where personality differences were discussed through the lens of a concept known as Real Colors, and each personality type is represented by a color.

Two other sessions that stuck out to Scott was a night that featured Farm Credit Services and asked participants to learn various aspects of a lender’s perspective in various borrowing situations. That same night, a session on family budgeting showed the women how to compare, contrast and use a family budget and farm budget together to work toward the best outcome for the family and farm business.

“It’s nice to see women who are successful in Ag and it shows me I can do that too, that I can be a part of this operation and business as well. My job on our farm isn’t to do as much of the physical labor — that’s just something we’ve chosen for our family. But, it’s nice to build a network with other women who have the same likes and interests,” Scott said. “They get where we’re coming from. Their frustrations are like our frustrations and our successes are like their successes.”

Hoffman felt like she was ‘of no help’ to her husband

Hoffman said she took the class after she ran into information on Annie’s Project while she was looking up 4-H related information online. She and her husband Rob have a cattle, row crop and hay operation based in Union County, with four daughters ranging from college-aged to middle school.

“I felt like I was of no help to [my husband] Rob on the farm. I was not working full-time at the time. I felt if I could be doing more, or at least if I could be a little more knowledgeable, that might help him out,” Hoffman said. “At first I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they took us through a lot of scenarioes.”

Three things stood out to Hoffman after completing the Annie’s Project course: the importance of marketing grain earlier, the ability to ask better questions to help encourage her husband and the understanding of why some farmers don’t take an income from their farm.

Hoffman said that through earlier grain marketing, she’s encouraged Rob to watch markets even closer to make wise decisions on when to buy or sell. Her ability to ask questions in various situations helps her to support him in his own decision making.

She said she also gained an ability to understand why some farmers don’t take an income from their farm helps her see how Rob’s decision to do that is his response to a long term vision of when he someday retires from his job in town.

“He didn’t understand that I don’t understand. There’s the whole asking the questions thing. I didn’t know what questions to ask or how to ask them,” Hoffman said. “Not only was I able to converse with Rob about things better [after taking this class], but I don’t feel so backward. I’ve also taught my kids some of those things. Now they have more of an understanding of it and can listen to him and ask questions better too. I feel it helped all four of our girls too and I think it helped our marriage because Rob didn’t feel so alone or isolated anymore, that it was all on his shoulders. I think having someone to talk to helped.”

‘Only limited by whatever the technology does’

Hatting explained that Annie’s Project was held in a couple of other locations in Iowa this winter completely virtually, so to have participants in person and online engaged and learning from the class in the Greenfield location was a welcome sight to organizers.

The “Annie’s Project” class is 18 hours of contact time, which equated to three hours each Thursday night at the Greenfield location for the class. A meal began the night and the class went in one-hour increments from 6 to 9 p.m.

“They’re all one-hour programs, except for the night we do estate planning,” Hatting said. “I am just glad with the number of folks who are participating virtually, that they are engaged and attentive. They’re listening and have great questions. We’re only limited by whatever the technology does for us, I guess.”

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.