I grew up on an Iowa farm and saw firsthand the kind of contribution my mom made and continues to make to help my dad manage the business. That’s why I was especially honored to attend the 10th anniversary celebration of Annie’s Project last month.
The program was launched in 2003 by University of Illinois extension educator Ruth Hambleton in honor of her mom, Annie Fleck, who was integral to the success of their family farm. Ruth recognized the value of ensuring that other women had access to education about farm and ranch management. Participants learn everything about risk management, from human resource issues, business planning and marketing to financial documentation, leases, insurance and estate planning.
At the anniversary event in Ames, Iowa, Ruth told the story of how Annie’s Project got off the ground. She started with a small grant and attracted 10 women to the first course in Illinois. Soon after, she was sharing this experience before a roomful of extension educators at an event in Texas, when a man walked up and said he’d like to help her grow the program. His name was Bob Wells, and together they organized the first session of Annie’s Project outside of Illinois. It was held in Ainsworth, Iowa, in 2004. Bob, being a farm management extension specialist like Ruth, taught the class. Fast forward 10 years, and Annie’s Project has now reached 32 states and provided education for 10,000 farm and ranch women.
I had the opportunity to work with Bob last year on plans to expand Annie’s Project in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. At the anniversary event in Ames, Bob was publicly recognized for his outstanding contribution to the program.
All of us who worked with Bob were deeply saddened when he passed away earlier this month. His passion for the work of Annie’s Project touched so many families and operations. The 10,000 graduates are a testament to one woman’s vision and one man’s commitment to help.