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.