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Empowering Farm Women to be Better Business Partners

Ruth Hambleton, founder of Annie's Project in Illinois, recounts her experience at the Rural Champions of Change roundtable and the importance of providing education, support, and networking resources for farm and ranch women.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Truly an inspiring event on July 6, 2011, starting with a tour of the East Wing of the White House and then on to the White House Champions of Change roundtable. Wonderful and talented people working in rural areas around the country, and then another high point: President Obama entered the room. Not only was this the first time in my life that I was in the same room with a sitting President, but I also was able to shake hands and make eye contact with the person holding the most powerful office on earth. It is an honor to be recognized by this level of my government.

What brought me to the Rural Champions of Change roundtable event is a program that I created called Annie's Project—Education for Farm Women. The mission of Annie’s Project is to empower farm women to be better business partners through networks and by managing and organizing critical information. I started this program with 10 women in February 2008 at a local community college, Kaskaskia College in Centralia, IL. The program’s funding came from USDA’s Risk Management Agency, which provides grants to assist underserved audiences.

Long story short, and eight years later, over 8,000 women have benefited from attending an educational program based on the life of my mother, Annette Kohlhagen Fleck. Her friends called her Annie. Annie was married to a farmer for 50 years and she truly loved living and working on the farm. A small town girl in northern Illinois, she lived her dreams and raised her family of four children on a dairy and poultry farm. My life experience of growing up on the farm observing all that she contributed, and then my work with University of Illinois Extension for 30 years, gave me a perspective of what farm women need in the way of education, support and networking.

A program that was initially scheduled to run for one year at one community college has now developed into a national office at Iowa State University, a nonprofit organization in Illinois, and a plan to take the program to all 50 states. A program like this cannot exist without the demand of the farm and ranch women who have found an educational program that meets their needs for information, socialization, and mentoring. It also takes work and cooperation from good people working through their Land Grant Universities and business partnerships like the Farm Credit Council, American Farm Bureau and so many more; all with a heart and mind to elevate farm women's confidence and business skills. As women's confidence in their ability to manage valuable agricultural assets grows, so grows families and rural communities. I look forward to growing partnerships and entrepreneurial relationships with the many organizations, governmental and private industry that will play major roles in empowering farm and ranch women to become better risk managers and business partners.

Ruth Hambleton is the founder of Annie’s Project in Illinois. Annie’s Project is a non-profit organization that concentrates on education for Farm Women.