Annie’s Project: Unique, priceless network of professional women graduate

Eighteen Big Horn County women recently completed the Annie’s Project program, which empowers farm and ranch women to be better business partners through networks by managing and organizing critical information.

The graduating class included Tracy Haley, Amie Hatch, Shauna Brewer, Beckie Bates, Tera Sanchez, Devan Costa-Cargill, Melissa Cook, Melodi Allen, Michelle Arnett, Morgan Flitner, Melody Brown, Chelle Schwope, Mary Schwope, Linda Schwope, Kelly Annand and Tiffany Tanner.

Annie’s Project is based on the life of a farm woman who grew up in a small town in northern Illinois. Her goal was to marry a farmer. In 1947, she did. Annie spent her lifetime learning how to be an involved business partner with her farm husband. Together they did wonderful things, but it was not easy. 

Challenges Annie faced included three generations living under one roof, low profitability, changing farm enterprises and raising a family. Annie faced pressure from her brother, multiple sisters-in-law and her mother-in-law. New regulations for selling processed food directly to the consumer forced many changes. Low profitability did not leave a lot of money to raise a family of four children, even though the family worked hard. Annie had to make painful sacrifices that tested her conviction to be married to a farmer.  There were days of tears, anger and sorrow, as well as days of laughter, contentment and accomplishment.  

Annie kept records. She kept the farm business running, she kept the family running and she kept her marriage. Annie knew deadlines, reporting requirements and tax issues. She did the management jobs that supported big management decisions.

When big decisions had to be made, Annie was there with her records. To increase cash flow, Annie sent her husband to work off-farm while she milked cows and kept an egg route in Chicago. Eventually her records guided them to discontinue the egg-laying enterprise, a seasonal turkey enterprise and a dairy enterprise. Other farmers with larger equipment and more resources could better run the farm.  That prompted Annie and her husband to become the landowners renting to other farmers. She paid expenses and marketed corn and soybeans.


The program

The Big Horn County Annie’s Project journey began with Real Colors, a research-based tool that allows people to better understand themselves and others, improving communication and creating positive and rewarding personal and professional relationships.  

Completing Real Colors, individuals are able to recognize their own strengths and the strengths of others; build rapport quickly with clients, peers, family and students; listen and speak in the language of other colors; understand how others process information; recognize the learning styles of others; and modify their communication style to connect with others. The Real Colors brightening activity shared a visual of values (what is important to a leader), strengths (what makes a leader effective), needs (what does a leader want or long for) and joys (what makes a leader happy).

Week two of the program featured a presentation on financial risks that was shared by Andrea Earhart, attorney at law, and Travis Smith of Sage Wealth Management, Inc. Earhart shared the importance of estate planning. Smith continued the discussion with numerous options available in investing and utilizing life insurance opportunities.

Tara Kuipers, who now owns her own consulting firm and formerly a community development education for the University of Wyoming, presented “Dealing with Difficult Conversations” in week three. Kuipers’ energy and positive approach were woven into “Positive Framing:  Name It, Flip It, Frame It” as well as “Pause, Breathe, Get Curious.”  

Devan Costa-Cargill continued week four planting educational seeds of the importance of developing a business plan.  Costa-Cargill is the regional director for the Wyoming Small Business Development Center.  Nicole Justus Forsberg, precision agriculture consultant, shared the science of improving crop yields and assisting management decisions using high technology sensor and analysis tools.  Precision Agriculture is a concept adopted throughout the world to increase production, reduce labor time and ensure the effective management of fertilizer and irrigation processes.  Forsberg cautioned and brought awareness about the importance of protecting personal data.  

Laura Galloway, district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), continued Annie’s Project learning, sharing the purpose and mission of the NRCS programs and a hands-on activity. It was educational and intriguing to learn about individual property soils.  

Brenda Miller, of the Farm Service Agency, presented and explained the programs available through the USDA in week five. Miller shared opportunities farmers and ranchers have that are regulated through the Farm Bill and reminded participants to keep in close contact with the FSA office to maintain deadlines and apply for programs available.  

Michelle Spradlin-King, financial educator at Money and Mindset, shared “How Money Works!”  Participants learned how to grow and protect money for college funding, retirement planning or simple wealth accumulation.  

Costa-Cargill wrapped up week five with cultivating business plan details. Participants were challenged to develop a personal business plan and present in the final week of Annie’s Project.  

Annie’s Project week six was bittersweet as the weekly meetings came to an end. Four past Annie’s Project graduates — Lisa Gernant, Amber Dewey, Robin Allen and Barbara Anne Greene — shared how Annie’s Project has impacted their lives

A tour of Road 10 T-shirts and More, located in Burlington and owned by Allen, sparked many opportunities of advertising.  Allen also shared information about Toolman Rentals and Sales, a new equipment rental business owned by Tim and Robin Allen.  

“It was rewarding to witness individuals trust each other to share individual business plans; seeking advice and encouragement from peers,” said Gretchen Gasvoda, the Big Horn County 4-H educator. “The unique creativity of each business plan received positive encouragement and support.  

“The consistent impact of Annie’s Project reflection from members was the building of confidence — “I can do this!” The unique network Annie’s Project creates is more than just friendships — it is professional network. The participants are living and experiencing the risks of farming and ranching, gaining a network of supportive individuals that can relate and share experiences is priceless. Thank you, Farm Credit Services, for supporting Annie’s Project.”