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Annie's Project gives North Dakota woman insight into the 'behind-the-scenes' work of farming

Participating in Annie’s Project has increased Cassie Hillesland’s confidence in talking to her husband, Matthew, about farm finances.

A blonde woman in a black shirt sits on a black rail bench.
Cassie Hillesland is enrolled in Annie's Project so she can learn more about farming.
Contributed photo

HATTON, N.D. — Annie’s Project hasn’t met Cassie Hillesland’s expectations — it’s exceeded them.

After attending four three-hour sessions of Annie’s Project, formally known as Annie’s Project Education for Farm Women, Hillesland has gained financial knowledge about marketing commodities, contractual relationships with landlords and the steps needed for licensure to sell meat products.

Hillesland attends Annie’s Project in Hatton. There also are Annie’s Project workshops in other North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota towns this winter. A total of 33 states have offered Annie’s Project to farm women since it was developed in 2003.

"I feel like I'm learning behind the scenes," Hillesland said. "Besides 'Oh you can drive a tractor.'"

Participating in Annie’s Project has increased Hillesland’s confidence in talking to her husband, Matthew, about farm finances, she said. The couple married since she started the program. Hillesland, who grew up on a farm near Grafton, North Dakota, was familiar with the production side of agriculture because she grew up around farm equipment, but her knowledge of the financial side was limited.

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“It’s been really awesome to learn,” Hillesland said. “I think it’s a great resource to empower women to be part of farms and ranches.”

Annie’s Project was founded by Ruth Hambleton, the daughter of Annie Kohlhagen Fleck. Kohlhagen Fleck, who grew up in northern Illinois, married a farmer and worked alongside him as a partner. Hambleton took her mother’s experience and mixed it with information she shares with today’s farm woman to design Annie’s Project.

Annie’s Project, over the years, evolved into a nonprofit organization which is overseen by a president, program administrator and board of directors. The current structure allows the organization to work more closely with sponsors to help fund and expand the program and provides more training for staff members who want to be facilitators

Katelyn Landeis, North Dakota State University Extension agricultural agent for Grand Forks County, and Jill Murphy, NDSU Extension agricultural agent for Traill County, are leading the Annie’s Project sessions in Hatton, where 23 women have gathered for the workshop once or twice monthly since November 2021.

About half of the women, who range in age from 20 to 64, are from farms that produce crops and about half are from livestock operations, Landeis said.

That has been educational for Hillesland, who has enjoyed getting to meet women who have livestock operations.

“I think that part of it is really cool, to hear their experiences with animals,” she said.

Many of the women at the Annie’s Project workshop in Hatton have off-the-farm jobs in addition to their work on the farm. That also adds to the conversation because it offers another perspective, Landeis said.

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For Hillesland, who besides farming with her husband works in Grand Forks for Ten Acre Marketing, Annie’s Project has helped her understand better the language her clients speak.

“A lot of our clients are ag-related businesses. I can talk the talk with them,” Hillesland said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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