Cassie Thompson knows enough about agriculture to acknowledge there’s a lot that she doesn’t know.
That’s why Thompson signed up for Annie’s Project, a six-week workshop for women that focuses on farm management and decision making.
“My knowledge is very limited,” Thompson said. Though she works for an agricultural marketing company and grew up on a diversified grain farm, she believes that there’s a lot she can learn about farming, a many faceted and complex industry.
“I want to immerse myself in it,” she said.
Thompson signed up for an Annie’s Project workshop that launched Nov. 15 in Hatton, North Dakota, and will continue through Feb 28. An Annie’s Project workshop also is underway in Montana, where it is being held virtually. A workshop will be held in Clearwater, Minnesota, beginning Jan. 20.
Since Annie's Project was developed in 2003 it has been offered in 33 states. The project was founded by Ruth Hambleton, the daughter of the Illinois farm woman for whom it was named.
Hambleton’s mother, Annie Kohlhagen Fleck, grew up in northern Illinois, married a farmer and spent her lifetime as his partner in the business. Hambleton has taken her mother’s experience and melded it with current information that she shares with today’s farm women.
Annie’s Project has evolved into a nonprofit organization, which has a president, program administrator and board of directors. The new structure helps the organization work more closely with sponsors to help fund and expand the program and provides more in-depth training for staff members who want to be facilitators
Its mission, however remains similar: to give farm and ranch women the tools they need to be better business partners through networking and by managing and organizing critical information.
Thompson will be married to Matt Hillesland, a farmer near Aneta, North Dakota, at the end of November, and believes that the knowledge she gains from Annie’s Project will be beneficial to the couple’s farm operation because it will help her better understand the intricacies of agriculture.
“I want to have a bigger role and know what I’m talking about a little more,” Thompson said. While she grew up helping with the production side of farming by driving machinery and trucks on her parent’s farm near Grafton, North Dakota, she wasn’t involved in financial and marketing decisions, she said.
Katelyn Landeis, North Dakota State University Extension agricultural agent for Grand Forks County and Jill Lagein, NDSU Extension agricultural agent for Traill County, are leading the Annie’s Project sessions in Hatton. Sessions include year-end financial statements, farmland leasing and marketing risks.
During the first session on Nov. 15, Thompson learned some new things about farm safety, she said. The two women who presented that part of the session impressed upon the participants the “Four Ts and the two Ss:; Take time to think and start slow,” Thompson said.
While those cautionary words are applicable for people working in all sorts of jobs, it’s especially important for farmers to remember and to impress upon their employees because they are operating large, heavy equipment, Thompson said.
“That is a great thing to tell your guys, take time,” she said.
Thompson is looking forward to the next Annie’s Project session in December, not only for what she will learn, but also the communication she will have with other farm women.
The connections that women make with one another and the information they share is something that Landeis, who has facilitated Annie’s Project twice before the Hatton session she’s co-leading, looks forward to.
“There's so much you can learn from all of the participants, especially if you have all of the different generations,” Landeis said.