What do you get when a group of farm and ranch women get together for several hours one night a week for 6 weeks? You get a fun-filled, education-packed program for women called Annie's Project.
Annie's Project is a workshop series conducted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for farm and ranch women on management and decision-making. Its mission is to empower women through networking and by showing them best practices to manage and organize critical information.
Participants receive training from agribusiness professionals in various areas of marketing, environmental considerations, financial recordkeeping, business planning, good agricultural practices, risk management, estate planning, and other topics. The workshop series also helps women build local and community networks and provides them with resources.
Extension Regional Agent Ruth Brock recently facilitated the Annie's Project workshops for 11 women in Blount County. The group included women already in some type of agribusiness or farming operation and some who were considering starting a new business or farm venture.
"Annie's Project was a great teaching and learning experience for both presenters and participants. The women were very dedicated in their attendance and participation. I look forward to the reunion planned for early next year and expanding the program in 2014." Stephanie Miller, who runs a 1,200-acre farm with her husband, grows corn, cotton and soybeans. She said she enjoyed the course, teachers, learning atmosphere, place and take-home resources.
"I learned a good bit – mostly things I can use to give me more income on the farm," Miller said. Her favorite session was Estate Planning. "The Estate Planning taught me a lot I didn't know. Now, I plan to use the information." She also learned valuable information in the Farm Record Keeping and Stress Management sessions.
Miller also recommends the course to other women. "This course is a good way for women to learn about different ways to manage your farm, and it provides a good network with other women farmers."
Intha Rafadin has a small goat farm in Walker County where she sells goat meat and milk. She learned about the course through a friend that was attending.
"I thought the course was wonderful, and I highly recommend it to other women. The teachers were knowledgeable in their fields of discussion, the timeframe was good, the take-home resources bountiful and the location was central to those in attendance."
She said she learned a lot relevant to her farm operation. "The business plan is still being worked on; the budget information is helpful in confirming what I already knew, but put it on paper; and the information on wills and trusts is something I will think about more," she said. Her favorite session was the opening session which identified personalities. "It was eye opening for me and explained how I deal with others."
Rafadin would like to see the course continue on a monthly basis. "This course is a needed experience for any woman in farming or wanting to become a farmer. It clearly showed the ups and downs of starting and maintaining an agribusiness."
Sherry Brewer is a school teacher in Blount County and does not have a farm business but is interested in starting one. She learned about the course through the county newspaper and the ACES website.
"I do not currently have a farm or business but what caught my eye and caused me to sign up was the connection with other like-minded women," she said. "I learned so much by hearing about their struggles and hard work in their respective businesses in my community. It was so interesting to network with other women like me, trying to better themselves, their financial status and their communities. "
She was pleased that each meeting covered various topics and not just business topics. "I loved that the course covered stress management, financial and estate planning and personality identification." Her favorite session was the personality identification.
Brewer said the course is definitely worth the time and effort. "I got so much information, met new friends and built new networks and reference lists for future use. It may be years before I enter into my own business, but I intend to one day. I feel so much more prepared after attending this course and I now know what to look for, what to prepare for and where to find help when I'm ready."
"This class offers so much more than just farm information," said Brewer. "Networking with other women in various stages of life and business was invaluable in helping me to see what I will be facing when I do venture into my own business. This course showed how much there is to consider before starting a business and also how a business and a hobby can be merged and can create additional income. By learning about other women's business strategies, products and experiences, I am more apt to support my local business women," added.
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