December 20, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, KY.

Annie never lived in Kentucky, but her story is the story of farm women around the state. It’s a story of hardship, of trying to eke out a living on the farm while raising four children and keeping a marriage together. It’s a story of hope, adjustment and sacrifice. And more than anything, it’s a success story that has inspired a popular workshop series called Annie’s Project.

Annie was Annette Fleck who was an Illinois farm wife for 50 years. When she died in 1997 she was a wealthy woman, due in large part to the management skills she acquired over decades as a farm wife. Her daughter Ruth Fleck Hambleton works for University of Illinois Cooperative Extension as a Farm Business Management and Marketing educator. Recognizing the diverse backgrounds of farm women and the isolation and insecurity that some of them feel, Hambleton began Annie’s Project, a risk management education program for farm women. Since its inception in 2002, Annie’s Project has spread beyond the borders of Illinois to most of the north central United States. And now it’s moving into the South.

“We were challenged in early summer by the Southern Risk Management Education Center to develop a planning committee to discuss the potential of bringing Annie’s Project to Kentucky,” said Jennifer Hunter, senior University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service associate in agricultural economics. “The committee was excited about the results of Annie’s Project in other states and wanted to pursue the possibilities of launching the program in Kentucky.”

A pilot project has been planned for three areas of the state: in Shelby County to serve the surrounding area, including Henry and Franklin counties; the Purchase area, including Marshall, Graves, Calloway and other Purchase area counties; and the Henderson County area, serving Webster, Union and Daviess counties. The workshop is set up as 18 hours of instruction over six weeks. The classes will focus on five areas: production risk, financial risk, management risk, legal issues and human resources risk.

Hunter, who is coordinator for the project, says the program has two goals.

“Obviously, one of them is for the women to learn more about the farming operations that they’re involved with. If their husband is the primary operator or if it’s a family operation, we want the women to feel more involved and more like a partner,” she said. 

Hunter said the second goal is for participants to network with other women who are facing some of the same challenges and in some of the same circumstances that they are. And when they complete the course, they will be aware of resources that can help them with some of the situations they might face in their farming operation.

Lee Meyer, UK Extension professor in agricultural economics, likens the structure of the workshops to that of the Master Cattlemen program. In both programs, sessions are taught by a variety of experts in a range of fields. But Annie’s project is designed to be much more interactive.

“It’s focusing on some questions and issues that might not get credibility in other venues,” he said. “Family goals and personal finance and insurance and things like that are things that we’ve touched on (in other programs), but we really haven’t presented a solid program on, in Extension.”

“Extension offers a lot of programs for women, but I think we have unintentionally left women out when it came to our agricultural programming,” Hunter said. “It’s not that women were never welcome, because they were, but it does not seem that we have a pattern of a lot of women attending the traditional agriculture meetings.”

She stressed the hands-on learning style of the workshop as something that might be appealing to women.

“We want the participants to feel as if they can guide the class,” she said.

Hunter went on to say that classes, which will be limited to 25 people, could be structured based on participants’ level of knowledge. Sessions will also be designed around the agricultural activity in that particular part of the state. In central Kentucky there might be a greater emphasis on livestock, whereas in western Kentucky the focus might be on grain.

“If all goes well, we’ll come back and revamp from the comments and suggestions that we’ve had from the pilot program,” she said, “and then we hope to launch the program statewide in fall of 2007.”

Those who are interested in participating in the pilot project can register by contacting their local county Extension office. The registration fee is $50. Included in the registration fee are a portfolio notebook, jump drive, two software packages and curriculum materials.

Contact: 

Lee Meyer, 859-257-7272, ext. 228, Jennifer Hunter, 859-257-7272, ext. 246