Saturday, May 16, 2015

Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?

Recently, I participated in a six week series of workshops hosted by my local county Extension Service and Mississippi State University Extension Service. Many (if not all) universities have extension services. They provide education programs in the area of agriculture, nutrition, family, and consumer research.

This particular series of workshops caught my attention because it focused on risk management education for farm and ranch women. Since my husband and I raise beef cattle, and I’m the bookkeeper, I figured I could learn a lot by signing up. The second thing that caught my eye was the list of topics to be covered: record keeping, legal liabilities, estate planning, social media, website design, tax preparation, to name a few.

As a writer, I also am responsible for all of the above (and more!) so the workshops did double duty for me.

In the spirit of the purpose of the Heroes, Heroines, and History blog, though, I’m not going to talk about the nuts and bolts of what I learned in the workshops, but rather the woman behind the movement called “Annie’s Project”.

The mission of Annie’s Project is to empower farm women to be better business partners through networking and by managing and organizing information. The program is based on Annette “Annie” Kohlhagen Fleck (1922-1997), a farmer’s wife from northern Illinois. As my grandmother would say, Annie was a “smart” worker. She was an involved business partner with her farm husband.

Farming has never has been easy, but in the 1940s on the heels of the Great Depression and during WWII, it was even more difficult for the farm couple and their young family. From all accounts, Annie was a driving force in keeping her family’s farm operational and making it successful. She kept detailed written records of every aspect of her farm. She knew when to plant, when to harvest. She knew when taxes were due, and how much she’d paid the year before, and the year before that. She knew what crops had the best yield on different acreages of her property. She didn’t just go out and plant the seeds and watch them grow. She kept records of how, what, where, when, and how often. Year after year, after year..

But how did all this record-keeping actually translate to bigger and better things for Annie’s family? The following quote might give you an idea.

“When big decisions had to be made, Annie was there with her records. To increase cash flow, Annie sent her husband to work off-farm while she milked cows and kept an egg route in Chicago. Eventually, her records guided them to discontinue an egg laying enterprise, a seasonal turkey enterprise, and a dairy enterprise. Other farmers with larger equipment and more resources could better run the farm. So Annie and her husband became the landowners renting to other farmers. She paid expenses, and marketed corn and soybeans.”

One woman’s determination to work alongside her husband for the betterment of their family didn’t go unnoticed by their daughter, Ruth. Ruth married a farmer as well, but went on to a successful career as a Farm Business Management and Marketing Educator at the University of Illinois.

When Ruth retired, she formed the non-profit organization called Annie’s Project. In all her years as an educator, Ruth had seen the need for educating farm women in business practices. And who better to base her training sessions on than her mother?

Some farm wives have more experience than others on what to do around the farm, but others might find themselves at a loss how to manage and operate a farm. Ruth took that into consideration and the community of women working together helped shape the classes that are taking place at extension offices all across the country.

As I put this piece together, another woman came to mind, a woman who finds wool, and flax, and works it with her hands, a woman who considers a field and buys it, and with the labor or her hands, plants a vineyard. This woman rises early; stays up late. She cooks, she cleans, she gives to the poor. Her children call her blessed, her husband praises her.

She is a virtuous woman.


  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. Annie was truly amazing and what a great example for her daughter, Ruth! Farming is vital for us all and my hat is off to all of the hard working men and women who do this for a living. Your hard work is greatly appreciated!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks Melanie! Just last night we were out late watching a mama cow birth twins. My Cowboy was concerned that the second calf might be backwards and we'd have to help the mama deliver the calf. That would have been difficult because the cowboy was limping something fierce. He'd fallen on a construction job earlier in the day and could barely walk. :( But within about 30 minutes, the mama cow had the 2nd calf and all is well. We have two or three sets of twins every year, so it's not real common, but we could tell by the way she was acting that it was likely that she was having 2. And she'd had twins a couple of years ago.

      I must get back to that pasture and take pictures of the twins. :)

  2. Hi Pam, what an interesting blog. I've never heard of the Annie Project. What a great idea--truly an inspiration.

    1. Margaret, there is so much to learn even if you're not a farmer. I'm planning on blogging in Seekerville about how these classes can be beneficial to authors soon. I wanted to focus on the historical aspect of how andy why state and county extension offices around the country are starting these programs. They give women a chance to meet as groups and discuss farming operations with other women.

      Our group consisted of a goat farmer making goat cheese in her kitchen, nursery and landscaping, tree farmer, beef, poultry, more goats, chickens, and even agri-tourism, which is huge right now. And then there was ME, the author! lol

  3. Pam - what inspiration to spread to others. Great post!

    1. Thanks Davalyn. I'm glad that the extension services are putting the workshops together. They are so helpful to people.

  4. I enjoyed reading about the business of farming and who better to do it than the farmer's wife. I have been so excited about The Oregon Trail Romance collection! sm CA wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. So true, Sharon. Thank you for stopping by. And glad you're looking forward to The Oregon Trail Romance Collection. :)

  6. I really liked this post, Pam, mainly because I like reading about women who continue to grow and also that people use their county extension service. Although we have similar programs up here in Canada, I found that the US county extension service had more material on raising goats and it was a tremendous help during the years we raised our own dairy and meat herd. So thanks so much for sharing. :)