When we think of agriculture, we often think of Old McDonalds: men in denim overalls and wide-brimmed hats, riding red tractors through rustling fields of corn. But farming is a changing field, with ever more women entering the profession.
Of the 3.3 million farm operators counted in the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, more than 1 million were women—a number up 19 percent from 2002. Helping this rising population of farmwomen meet the challenges of running a business in a male-dominated field is a program called Annie’s Project.
Offered in more than 20 states across the U.S., this educational program was inspired by a Northern Illinois farmwoman named Annette “Annie” (Kohlhagen) Fleck. Created by her daughter, Annie’s Project is designed to empower farmwomen to become better business people and business partners through networking opportunities and training in risk management.
The program brings together a diverse group of farmwomen—some of whom have become farmers through marriage, inheritance, or of their own accord; some of whom raise livestock, grow produce, or sell cheese and soap—to learn about topics like titling farmland, obtaining crop insurance, and using computer software to make your business more efficient.
Two members of the Accokeek Foundation staff attended Annie’s Project in Maryland this winter. Molly Meehan, CAES Community Outreach and Education Coordinator, took the course in Boonsboro and writes:
Upon entering the University of Maryland Extension office in Washington County, I am immediately struck by the banter going back and forth between the participants and the teachers of the class. They know each other’s kids, they know each other’s farms. They are connected to each other by their ties to the land.
I was able to attend Annie’s Project in Loveville, and noticed the same: In all, we were seven women, most of whom knew one another through their work, their children, their love of spinning wool and knitting. Over the course of eight weeks, we learned useful lessons from local businesspeople. But we were also able to teach each other, whether I was asking my classmates for tips on cold frame construction or sharing with them my experience marketing produce through a Community Supported Agriculture program. And we came away from the class with a newfound confidence in ourselves and a respect for farmwomen in the field.