Feb 22, 2021
By Barb Baylor Anderson • From Winter 2021 American Soybean magazine
In the first family photo taken after her husband died following a farm accident, Tina Wibberg (center) poses with her children and the first crop of sunflowers they grew on their own.
When Tina Wibberg’s husband Bernie died in a farm accident in 2014, there was a succession plan in place. The couple had formally prepared for the farm’s future.
“Annie's Project helped us start on what we would like to happen to our farm once we chose to step away from it full time,” says Tina. “Little did we know that several years later my husband would pass away. Every topic covered by Annie's Project gave me the tools I needed to carry on the family farm legacy with our children, who were 13, 15 and 24 at the time.”
Tina and her sons continue to farm, raising soybeans, corn, sunflowers and wheat. They also run a 60-head cow-calf operation and produce alfalfa and hay forage.
Tina Wibberg at work on her farm.
Created in 2003 by University of Illinois Extension educator Ruth Hambleton, Annie’s Project is named for Ruth’s mother, Annie Kohlhagen Fleck, who took over managing her family’s farm. Today, the nonprofit organization provides programs to strengthen female roles in five critical farm risk management areas: financial, human resource, legal, marketing and production.
“We got involved more than a decade ago when my late husband noticed a flyer at our local Farm Service Agency. Through the program, we talked about what was working on the farm, what wasn't and where we saw ourselves in the future,” says Tina. “The course opened our lines of communication. We created a business plan, and we implemented a more formal farm accounting system. We began treating the family operation as a true business.”
Annie’s Project has expanded into 35 states and is exploring opportunities in U.S. territories and other countries. More than 16,000 women in farming and ranching have participated to date.
“All ages and all roles in agriculture are involved. Some women are producers, some are married to producers, some work in ag jobs and others inherited a farm,” says Karisha Devlin, co-CEO of Annie’s Project and University of Missouri Extension field specialist. “I am married to a farmer and I learn something new every class I teach because the groups are so diverse.”
Karisha Devlin, co-CEO of Annie’s Project and University of Missouri Extension field specialist.
The common ground, she adds, is all participants seek resources and networking opportunities.
“Annie’s Project is a different environment from other farm meetings. They are women-centric,” says Doris Mold, Annie’s Project co-CEO, president of Sunrise Agricultural Associates, LLC, and a farm operator. “More women identify as farmers and perform farm management activities. In our classes, women support women and boost their self-confidence. They are more comfortable and engaged asking questions among peers instead of being one of a handful of women in a room.”
While classes have traditionally provided in-person education, Devlin says they were already transitioning to some virtual programs to reach even more women when the pandemic struck.
“Agriculture can be a lonely occupation. Through Annie’s Project, women become empowered. They learn they can get to the other side of farming challenges,” says Devlin.
Doris Mold, Annie’s Project co-CEO, president of Sunrise Agricultural Associates, LLC, and a farm operator.
Mold adds programs nationwide have created offshoot groups for marketing, succession and transition planning, financial analysis and practical, hands-on equipment operation. Annie’s also partners with Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture to address farm stress issues.
“We want participants to learn to focus on what is within their control and connect them to information to help weather the storms of stress,” says Mold. “We also develop programming to encourage more women to get involved in commodity, farm group and rural leadership.”
“The topics presented by Annie's Project are vitally important to all agricultural families. I've seen how much they helped mine,” says Tina Wibberg.
For more information or to find programs in specific areas, visit anniesproject.org.