Our Prairie Woman of the Month for April is Ruth Hambleton, mother of 3 (grandmother to 5) and founder of Annie’s Project, an educational organization whose goal is to empower women on the farm.
Ruth grew up on a dairy and poultry farm in Will County just outside of Chicago. She attended Joliet Jr. College, and later Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Industries and a Masters in Ag Economics. After finding work in Southern IL and meeting her husband, she discovered that they both had the same goal — they wanted to stay on the farm. Now, Ruth and her husband have 40 acres in Jefferson County, where they run a small cow calf operation, and grow hay and utilize rotational grazing.
Annie’s Project began in 2003, towards the end of Ruth’s long career with the University of Illinois Extension - she worked as an extension educator in farm business management and marketing for 31 years. She noticed that whenever Extension would hold events, there were very few women who attended, and when they did, they seldom participated.
“I realized that some women simply are not comfortable in a room full of men,” she said.
Ruth described how she has found (through 30 years of observation) that 15% of women can go into a room full of men and not feel intimidated, while the other 85% are not comfortable with it. The 85%, she said, is the audience that she has geared Annie’s Project towards.
Along with her experience with Extension, Ruth says that her mother, Annie, was the main inspiration for Annie’s Project, noting that Annie was a hard worker on the farm and very good with the books:
“When I tell the story of Annie, it becomes personal. Other women relate very strongly when you tell ‘mom stories.’”
With her mother in mind, Ruth asked herself: “What is is that women want or need in order to be better at what they are doing?” She realized that many women want to love the farm business, but are sometimes frustrated with it. And so, Ruth set out with Annie’s Project to offer women a set of resources, and people they can contact or use as mentors.
As an educational program, Annie’s Project offers classes, which are divided into Intro and 2nd level courses, and taught by instructors from a variety of backgrounds, such as attorneys, grain marketers, or livestock buyers. While Intro classes focus on more broad topics, 2nd level courses hone in on the specifics, and can be centered around anything from risk management to estate and retirement planning for farm women.
Annie’s Project courses are now offered in 33 states, with 12,000 alumni who have been through the program. Women of all ages may register, and registration can be done through the website, over the phone, and some through Farm Credit. Classes typically begin in the spring, and the length/time of each class depends on whether it is Intro or 2nd Level.
Ruth is a perfect example of a Modern Prairie Woman, and her work with Annie’s Project is an inspiration to women in ag across the board. Thank you for sharing your story!
Interested in taking a course with Annie’s Project? Find one near you.