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North Dakota woman gains valuable agricultural knowledge from Annie's Project

Cassie Hillesland, who farms with her husband, Matthew, near Aneta, North Dakota, is one of 23 graduates of Annie’s Project held in Hatton, North Dakota.

Cassie.jpg
Cassie Thompson enrolled in Annie's Project to learn more about farming.
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HATTON, N.D. — Annie’s Project connected Cassie Hillesland with other women in agriculture, taught her about a variety of agricultural economics topics and refreshed for her the importance of being vigilant about farm safety.

Hillesland, who farms with her husband, Matthew, near Aneta, North Dakota, is one of 23 graduates of Annie’s Project held in Hatton, North Dakota.

Hillesland, like several other women who participated in Annie’s Project in Hatton, also has an off-farm job besides being a farm partner with her husband. Hillesland works for Ten Acre Marketing, which focuses on promoting agricultural businesses through techniques including strategies, branding and advertising.

The insight of the women with off-farm agricultural jobs contributed positively to the discussions and was one of the unique characteristics of the group, said Katelyn Landeis, North Dakota State University Extension agent for Grand Forks County. Landeis and Jill Murphy, NDSU Extension agricultural agent for Traill County, lead Annie’s Project in Hatton from mid-November 2021 through February 2022

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

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Annie’s Project, now is a nonprofit organization which is overseen by a president, program administrator and board of directors. That 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.

Each group of women who participate in Annie’s Project is different from the previous ones, as their ages, agricultural experience and the type of farm operations they are involved in vary, Landeis said. For example, Annie’s Project participants in Hatton showed greater interest in livestock than a previous group she led, Landeis said.

Making connections with the women in the group and hearing from them about their experiences in agriculture and listening to a roundtable discussion of female agricultural leaders who talked about the evolution of their careers was one of the highlights of Annie’s Project for Hillesland.

Hillesland also enjoyed the presentation of Bill Hodus, retired NDSU Extension agricultural agent for Ramsey County, North Dakota, who talked about farm succession planning at the final season in Hatton.

“He talked about his actual experience, and he talked about his time as Extension agent and what he’s seen,” Hillsland said. ”It’s different for every family. It’s not linear. It was really interesting to hear about his experiences with that.”

Besides the connections she’s made and Hodus’ information, Hillesland appreciates the knowledge she gained during the past two months about agricultural issues including farm safety, marketing meat products and finances.

“I would definitely recommend it for other people in the area," Hillesland said. “If it is in the area, and women are able to do it whether they’re in agriculture or just to learn about the community . . . I think it is a good program.”

For more Information about Annie’s Project and to find locations and classes, visit https://www.anniesproject.org.

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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