Annie's Project is a workshop series for farm and ranch women on management and decision-making. Its mission is to empower farm women through networking and by managing and organizing critical information. The program has been successful in several other states but this is the first time it has been offered in Alabama.
Extension Regional Agent Diana Simpson, with help from Montgomery County Extension Coordinator Jimmy Smitherman, organized, conducted and facilitated the six-week Annie's Project series, which ran from Feb. 25 through April 1 at the Montgomery County Extension office. Alabama AgCredit was a cosponsor of the course. Montgomery County Farmers Federation helped many of the ladies with tuition for the course.
The 3-hour sessions included topics such as: What We Know About Women and Their Money, Business Plans, Strategic Planning, Characteristics of Consistently Successful Farms, Estate and Succession Planning, Financial Documentation, Rick Management, Time Management, How Property is Titled, Human Resources, Cash and Crop Share Leases, Business Entities and more.
The 15 women who attended all agreed that the course provided valuable and needed information for their perspective businesses. The diverse group included women in their early twenties to those in their late 70s. Some were newcomers to the agriculture business scene, while others were second-and third- generation farm women. Their businesses included row crops, cattle, horses, goats, timber and even bees. The number of acres owned per farm ranged from 100 to more than a thousand.
"Montgomery County has a large number of ladies that are the farm decision makers," said Smitherman. "Annie's Project is a great opportunity to help these ladies gain insight into the financial, legal and management strategies that can keep the farm successful and on sound financial footing. Thanks to Alabama AgCredit and the Montgomery County Farmers Federation for being such great sponsors and recognizing the importance of women in the production of a safe and healthy food supply. Because of the success and the positive comments from participants, Montgomery County plans to host this valuable program again in the future.
Most of the participants felt the information about creating a business plan, traits of successful farmers and estate planning and business entities were the best sessions.
Dr. Robert Tufts, Ph.D, J.D., LLM, from Auburn University conducted the session on estate planning and business entities.
"The business structure, estate planning and business entities session was intensive and packed with valuable information," said one participant. "This is a complicated area of law, tax and real estate, and it needs to be understood by anyone who owns land."
Terese Goodson from Montgomery County said "this entire course was informative and very worthwhile."
"I especially liked Dr. Tufts information about advanced directives, wills and trusts. A lot of the information was new to me and I learned so much." She has already begun working on her new business plan, called Ag Plan, which she learned about during the program. "Networking with other women farmers was invaluable," Goodson added. She has completed several other Extension courses including Master Cattleman and Master Gardener.
All of the participants said they appreciated Extension's and AgCredit's sponsorship of the course and all the take-home resources provided.
"I enjoyed everything about the course, the information and resources, the teachers and the ladies participating," said Pat Latham from Montgomery County. She said the workbook provided by Extension for the course has and will continue to be a great reference. "I love being able to read and study the information from home," Latham added. She also said the learning atmosphere was great. "The Extension office was a wonderful place to hold the meetings."
Most of the women heard about the course through their county Extension offices, but one participant, Chloe, who was the youngest attendee, saw an article on the ACES website. She is in the early stages of starting a new business and felt the information would be essential for her to learn.
"I love ACES! I hope to attend many more workshops and classes," Chloe added. This was the first course she has attended. "Mrs. Simpson was a wonderful facilitator and she found some impressive people to speak to us. Everyone made me feel so welcome."
Winona Clark-Colvard, whose farm operation is in Elmore and Autauga counties, is no stranger to Extension programs. She not only has completed forestry, REIN, goat and bird programs, but also has attended numerous other workshops.
"I have been aware of Extension since I was a youngster in 4-H, but it wasn't until I actually worked with Extension did I get the true picture of the wealth of information available through Extension's agents, educational materials and trainings," she added. "It's a source more people should tap into."
Even though she has been in farming for a long time, Julianne Hataway from Montgomery County says the course was very educational. "It keeps me abreast of current rules, changes and trends, and it provides excellent resources for me to use after the course is over," she said.
"It has been such a pleasure working with these ladies the last six weeks," Simpson said. "We learned so much from each other. The program is designed exclusively for women for a reason: Research shows that women learn differently from men. We like to talk things through rather than have someone just talking at us to provide information. The class facilitated the opportunity for these women, who come from diverse backgrounds, to discuss topics of shared importance and help each other during the learning process."
All of the ladies said they want to attend more Annie's Project sessions. They hope to start another series of sessions on new topics in the fall.
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