Annie’s Legacy

Farm and ranch women are hard-working, resourceful and intelligent. Many are quite outspoken. Some are very much ahead of their time. Annette Kohlhagen Fleck was one such woman. Working as a grade school teacher in the 1940’s, she dreamed of one day marrying a farmer.  In 1947 this dream came true when she married Frank Fleck, an Illinois farmer.  For 50 years, Annette and Frank weathered good times and bad. They raised four children. They battled family pressures, government regulations, taxes, hard work, low profitability, weather challenges, and livestock complications. Through it all “Annie” kept the farm and the family going. She taught herself about record keeping, deadlines, marketing, taxes, and farm management.  She encouraged her husband to take off-farm work while she managed their agricultural pursuits. She bore the criticism of those who disapproved of a woman seizing a management position in farming.  She made mistakes and learned from them. She passed her work ethics on to her children. Annie died in 1997, a wealthy and successful woman.


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Annette Kohlhagen Fleck, circa 1942.

Annie’s daughter, Ruth Fleck Hambleton, learned first-hand about the educational and experiential needs of women farm owners and operators. But this did not deter her from also becoming the wife of a farmer. She served as a Farm Business Management and Marketing Educator for University of Illinois Extension for 30 years. Upon her retirement, Ruth founded Annie’s Project in honor of her mother and to help fulfill the needs of women farm managers.

Annie’s Project is an educational program and support network dedicated to strengthening the skills and roles of women in modern agriculture.  According to Oklahoma State University, women who participate in Annie’s Project report growth in their confidence, business competence, and community prestige. Through the program, they foster friendships, discover answers to difficult questions, and build strengths in many areas. According to Madeline Schultz, Extension Educator at Iowa State University, “more than 7,000 women from 21 states have participated in Annie’s Project courses, beginning with the initial class taught in Illinois in 2003.”  Classes are currently offered in 22 states (see sidebar) and interest continues to grow across the nation.  Schultz reports that here in the Northeast, twelve courses have been taught in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania since 2008. Other states in the region are beginning to report strong interest and, as the number of women farm operators continues to increase, it is likely that all states may someday offer Annie’s Project courses.

Annie’s National Network Initiative for Educational Success
Iowa State University
1111 NSRIC
Ames, IA 50011
Madeline Schultz:; (515) 294-0588
States Currently Offering Annie’s Project Courses:
• Arkansas
• Delaware
• Florida
• Iowa
• Illinois
• Indiana
• Kansas
• Kentucky
• Maryland
• Michigan
• Minnesota
• Mississippi
• Missouri
• Montana
• Nebraska
• New Mexico
• North Dakota
• Ohio
• Oklahoma
• Pennsylvania
• South Dakota
• Texas
• Wisconsin

Annie’s Project is geared toward women who have an interest in business and in becoming more deeply involved in their farm’s operation and management. In the agricultural community, women tend to be an underserved audience who, due to lack of farm experience or business education, present a number of unique learning needs. Some women are accomplished tractor operators, but do not know how to balance a checkbook. Others understand the importance of keeping detailed breeding records, but have never considered keeping detailed records of their expenses. Annie’s Project classes offer women safe learning environments without prejudice or competition from their male counterparts in which they can learn how to create marketing plans, estimate retirement costs, examine annual insurance policies, or calculate breakeven prices for crops and livestock.  Their mentors are nurturing, understanding, and experienced.  A typical Annie’s Project  consists of six 3-hour sessions and topics often include: legal issues, budgets, financial statements, estate planning, family and business management, marketing of crops and livestock, insurance basics, computers and software, money management, interpersonal skills, taxes; and developing visions, goals, and missions.

Locate an Annie’s Project course being offered near you.  Women may also contact Madeline Schultz directly as she is a member of the national leadership team currently seeking educators to expand Annie’s Project.  Her contact info is noted in the resource section.  A general internet search under “Annie’s Project” will provide a number of links to various universities that currently offer the program. The Oklahoma State University even features many handouts, forms, and presentations you can view or print.

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Susan Neal

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