Life changes in an instant. That’s what Grinnell Mutual Telecommunications Specialist Janet Dimit realized when her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago. The survival rate was just 15 percent. As a non-smoker, her husband received a good prognosis following surgery and celebrated his sixth year in remission this year. Still, the experience left Dimit thinking about the future.
"At the time I thought, ‘if something happens to Mark, I’ve got to hold our farm together. We have employees depending on us.’ I’ve always been involved with our farm, but I realized I needed to be more active in managing the farm," explained Dimit, who now handles the bookkeeping for their operation.
For Dimit, participating in Annie’s Project this spring provided an opportunity to sharpen valuable farm management skills. Even more so, it opened the door to meet other women who shared her passion – running a family farm.
Empowering women in agriculture
During February and March 2012, the Iowa State Extension office sponsored Annie’s Project, a six-week course designed for women to develop their farm management skills. Each week, 13 women gathered at Iowa Valley Community College in Grinnell to hear guest speakers and network with their peers. Dimit, as well as Business Analyst Erica Urfer, participated in the program.
"I knew the basics of farm management before beginning the program, but Annie’s Project enhanced my farm business knowledge," said Urfer. "I grew up on a farm but didn’t pick up the business skills until I married a farmer. Annie’s Project was started for women just like me so we don’t have to experience all of the learning curves of farm management by ourselves."
The namesake of Annie’s Project, Annette Fleck (1922-1997), was a pioneering woman during some difficult days in agriculture. Annie and her husband lived on a farm in northern Illinois where she meticulously kept records. Soon, those records began successfully guiding their business decisions.
Annie’s daughter, Ruth, also farmed and worked as an educator for the University of Illinois Extension. Following her 30-year career, she founded Annie’s Project in 2009. Annie’s Project is currently offered in 27 states.
"During class, we took part in several hands-on activities," explained Dimit. "For instance, we used Iowa State University’s online Ag Decision Maker to run a cash-rent estimator and farm land purchase analysis. Those online tools are very helpful."
"My husband and I stayed up until midnight after the first class playing with the rental analysis. We already put it into practice for our farm operation this spring," agreed Urfer.
The group also discussed marketing grain, preparing financial statements, credit-ranking, and estate planning, among other topics. Following the program’s completion, participants continue receiving notices of other local conferences.
"I would recommend Annie’s Project to any woman who is interested in expanding her knowledge. Not only was it beneficial because of the tools that were provided, but it also opened doors to additional learning opportunities," said Urfer. "This experience has opened my eyes to how much I can learn from conferences and even from other farmers. My husband and I have only had our own operation for eight years, so we want to learn as much as we can so we never have to worry about losing our farm."
"The most valuable part of Annie’s Project was networking with other women who are as passionate about farming as I am," said Dimit. "Farming is truly a way of life. It’s really hard to imagine my life any other way."
Attend Annie’s Project
To learn more about Annie’s Project and find classes near you, go to the Iowa State Extension Service website at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/annie/upcomingclasses.html.
Photo caption: Grinnell Mutual employees, Erica Urfer and Dimit, attended Annie’s Project classes, an educational program for women to enhance their farm business skills. Urfer and her husband own a farm, as well as rent land, run a cow-calf operation, and do some custom farming — all after they finish their town jobs. Dimit and her husband grow corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. They also raise feeder calves.