Annette Kohlhagen Fleck (Annie) grew up in a small rural community. Her life-long goal was to be involved in production agriculture, and she spent her life learning how to be a business partner with her husband. Annie had to make difficult decisions to raise four children and keep their family farm intact.
There were days of tears, anger and sorrow. There were days of laughter, contentment, and accomplishment. Through it all, Annie kept records. She kept the farm business running, she kept the family running, and she kept her marriage. Annie knew deadlines, reporting requirements, tax issues, and did the little management jobs that kept big management jobs under control.”
–University of Illinois Extension
Annie never gave up on her dream and the lifestyle she wanted for her family. Annie did it all, but it wasn’t always easy.
“Juggling work and home seems to be a natural state for many women, but when you add working or managing the family farm – whew!” writes Gigi Neal, OSU Extension Educator in Clermont County. “How do you make all the decisions for production, stewardship and family?” Can farm women really do it all?
The answer is ‘yes’. Annie and thousands of other women have, and Extension can help. Annie’s daughter, Ruth Fleck Hambleton founded Annie’s Project in 2000 in honor of her mother. Ruth saw a need to prepare women for the responsibility of running a family agricultural business. As a county educator with the University of Illinois Extension, she began teaching women five aspects of risk management. Today, Annie’s Project is taught in 34 states, including Ohio.
Participants say they find answers, strength, and friendship- and also grow in confidence, business skills, and community prestige. Although these women come from different backgrounds, (some have never lived on a farm) they all set goals for their families and learn strategies for balancing the demands of work and family life. They are inspired by other women who work in an agricultural field, who stay at home, who work to contribute financially to the family farm and who inherit a farm business after a family member is deceased.
Ohio has 19 counties with over 500 women farm operators (USDA, 2012). Nationally, women make up 30% of all farmers . With the right help, they really can do it all…just like Annie. For over a hundred years, Extension has helped improve the quality of life for farm families. Helping Ohioans through Family and Consumer Sciences programs and the Ohio Women in Agriculture network are just a few ways OSU Extension continues to strengthen lives and communities.