Annie’s Project opens up the business side of farming and ranching to women |

Annie’s Project opens up the business side of farming and ranching to women

Samantha Fox
Women listen to Brenda Zink talk during a recent Annie's Project in Sterling, Colo. The setup of the tables in a 'U' shape is specific for the program as it allows for open and easy conversation.
Photo courtesy Kelly Huenink |

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The price for the classes differ due to sponsorships. The classes in Colorado right now range in price from $60-75, but normally the classes cost about $150 to put on per person.

Brent Young has witnessed the difference multiple voices can have on a farming operation.

Before, he and his son would text back and forth to discuss the family farm. But for about a year, now, Young’s wife and daughter-in-law also are part of the text group.

That started after the two completed the six-week Annie’s Project class, which is part of a national program that teaches farming and ranching women the business side of operations.


Ruth Hambleton founded Annie’s Project in 2003 as a way to educate women about the farming business in an atmosphere conducive to open conversation about things some women haven’t had a chance to learn.

The program was started to honor Hambleton’s mother and help women to be active in decision making on farm and ranch operations.

Hambleton’s mother had to learn and became independent within the family business. But often women aren’t fully involved in the business side of things because they simply, weren’t taught. That’s where Annie’s Project comes in.

Because Hambleton was an Extension educator for the University of Illinois, Annie’s Project started under the umbrella of the university’s Extension program.

Eventually the program expanded outside of Illinois, and that’s when Hambleton realized — while an excellent resource — the project being housed under land grant universities could be limiting. Today, Annie’s project is funded by registration fees, grants, sponsorships and in-kind contributions.


Annie’s Project is a six-week class that focuses on financial, human resource, legal, market and production risks. During the first class women take the True Colors Personality Test. Similar to Myers-Briggs, the True Colors has four colors — gold, green, blue and orange — with assigned characteristics. The personality test is used to determine the women’s different personalities and to get a better understanding of how they work and communicate.

Annie’s Project has the same set up in 36 states. At every class the tables are arranged in a ‘U’ shape. It sounds oddly specific, but it’s conducive to open communication among those participating.

The communication is key.

When Kelly Huenink, professor of ag business at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., spoke in January at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley, she talked about Annie’s Project and described the class environment as a place where women can freely ask questions. Annie’s Project encourages that because, more than likely, if one woman in the class doesn’t understand or has a question about the business, other women likely do, too.

After the first week, the women hear from experts in the field about the topics they are studying. This helps with networking and gives the women a resource to answer their questions after they finish the class.


Young first heard about the program while working at North Dakota State University in Fargo. When they moved to Colorado, his wife suggested bringing Annie’s project to the state. Young is the regional Extension specialist for Colorado State University, and was the only facilitator for Annie’s Project in Colorado.

Only trained facilitators can lead Annie’s Project, so Young helped coordinate the first two classes. The first, as Huenink likes to brag, was at Northeastern Junior College and 26 women attended — the classes are typically limited to about 20 women. Hambleton said for the type of learning and discussion through the six-week course, it’s better to have a smaller number of participants.

During fall 2017, the first facilitator training was held in Colorado. Not every facilitator is hosting an Annie’s, but there are now four classes in Colorado. They’re mostly on the plains, but Huenink said there is interest in expanding it, but it will take more people to get involved.

But, once it takes off, Hambleton said she sees so many women who want to continue their involvement. That’s where Annie’s Level II: Managing for Today and Tomorrow and Annie’s Inspired comes in.

Annie’s Inspired are spinoffs that don’t follow the curriculum, but allow women to find ways to take Annie’s Project and customize it. Managing for Today and Tomorrow, however, is facilitated through Annie’s and covers succession, business, estate and retirement planning.

“As it turned out, both my wife and daughter-in-law attended the first class here in Sterling, Colo., and it’s had a profound impact on how we manage our farming operation,” Young said.

— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at, (970) 392-4410 or on Twiter @FoxonaFarm.