It seems only a huge crystal ball could have predicted that the European Union (EU) would have turned to New Jersey to help women succeed in farming. But that is just what is happening today. The initiative supports a spinoff of the domestic Annie’s Project movement, which has had great success training women to run their farm operations as businesses.
The international version of Annie’s Project is known as Suzanne’s Project. Five years ago, Robin Brumfield, professor of farm management at Rutgers University, took the Annie’s Project idea to Turkey as part of a sabbatical leave. There, it became known as Suzanne’s Project, named in honor of Brumfield’s daughter and chosen to recognize all young women with bright futures.
“Farming is the principal economic activity in most rural areas of the EU where about half of the population lives. Without farming there would be little to keep many communities alive and hold them together,” Brumfield said.
“Women farmers are a risky group because they generally do not have formal vocational education, they are less educated than men, and they learn farming on the job by informal learning while working in their farms or other farms, and do not have access to the latest research-based information,” she said.
Empowering Woman Farmers with Agricultural Business Management Training (EMWOFA), is an EU-funded project, aims to strengthen the linkages between researchers and extension educators in Turkey, Germany and Spain and provides a comprehensive training program for extension educators who will have direct contact with women farmers.
By training the trainers, Suzanne’s Project helps extension educators aid women farmers to develop technical, entrepreneurial and managerial skills through specialized training; to realize their full-potential to operate and sustain profitable farms as small businesses; and thus, to gain self-confidence as businesswomen.
Suzanne’s Project developed as the result of a feasibility study Brumfield did, changing the Annie’s Project program to fit Turkish conditions. Since many small farmers grow the same crops, they included technical topics and added computer training for the international audience. Next, Brumfield was asked to take Suzanne’s Project to Guyana, where women have built successful small businesses.
Brumfield is best known for her work in horticultural economics. Yet the work with women is probably closest to her heart. In Guyana, she was able to combine the two. Brumfield was approached by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Partners of the Americas, headquartered in Washington, D.C. She was to work with Kelvin Craig, Guyana chapter coordinator, whose offices handle Central America, to come to Guyana and evaluate a hydroponics project they were supporting.
She worked with farmers, male and female, to use soilless production to grow vegetables as a cash crop. Among the crops produced are bok choy, celery, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. They found that hydroponic production provides fresh produce all year long.
“What stood out for me was the sacrifice that so many of the small farmers had to make to produce their crops and get them to the market, especially those in the remote areas,” Brumfield said.
Suzanne’s Project for Turkey moves forward despite political unrest
There has been much interest on both sides of the Atlantic in an exchange between American women who participate in Annie’s Project and Turkish women who are part of Suzanne’s Project. Unfortunately, political unrest in Turkey has put those opportunities on hold for now.
Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric, is involved with setting up people-to-people type exchanges and seemed interested in doing so for the New Jersey women. Though Gulen lives in Pennsylvania, his Peace Island Institute also has locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. However, the president of Turkey has accused Gulen, who was born in Erzurum, Turkey, of being behind a coup attempt this summer in Turkey, an attempt which Gulen denies being involved in. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Prime Minister from 2003-2014, is an Islamist and was the target of the failed coup. Erdogan has disappointed many progressive Turks, going back to when he was mayor of Istanbul and banned the sale of alcohol at city cafes. Yet he has done much to help the city. Most observers attribute, or blame, the recent coup attempt on the military.
Since Turkey and the United States are NATO allies, the situation is thorny in the states.
“I hope the problems get sorted out,” Robin Brumfield said. Though the unrest has dampened ground-level exchanges, the work to deliver good information about agricultural business management and sound economic practices continues.
Meantime, Brumfield has had the pleasure of seeing women’s eyes light up when they realize what they can accomplish as growers and farmers if they run their farms as businesses.
“In Turkey, many of the people would like to be organic and sustainable,” Brumfield said. “But nobody told them how to do that.” Traditionally, men and women there are farmers because their families have been farmers for generations.
“For plenty of farmers, it is all they know and all they think they can do,” Brumfield said. In the Suzanne’s Project sessions, each attendee is expected to develop a business plan and to write out a mission statement for their operation.
“When those women do a business plan and see what they can accomplish, they feel empowered. They feel more important when they see their farm as a business,” she said. “They feel they are doing something important in the world.”
Though having a business plan and mission statement is a great idea for Turkish farmers, it is a good idea for Americans, Germans, Spaniards and others, too.
Speaking the language
Brumfield helped them to develop some low-tech ways to produce plants in a shade house. “It’s easier to work in Guyana because they speak English,” she said.
That is not the case in Turkey, Germany or Spain, where the language barrier is high. In those cases, the EU pays to have video recordings made of the lectures, which are given in English. Since the EU wants its citizens to benefit from the cool strategies and cold hard facts that the New Jersey farm women developed, they are paying for the programs to be translated into six different languages.
“The idea is to train the trainers so we can multiply the project,” Brumfield said. In most of those countries, there has been little focus on women in the farming business. Education has typically focused on home economics.
Likewise, men in places like Turkey also have not gotten as much business training as they might need to run an operation. All of this information will be translated for overseas use.
The EU grant will be used to bring business management techniques to extension people in other nations. One partner is from Malta. While there is little farming there, his expertise in audiovisual technology and e-learning will support the program.
Lectures given by visitors will be translated as well. The goal of the EU grant is to eliminate any language or learning obstacle that might stand between what the New Jersey women have learned and what would benefit producers overseas.
The focus of the Annie’s Project program, headquartered in Illinois with chapters in several Northeast states, is to develop problem-solving, record-keeping and decision-making skills for women farmers. Suzanne’s Project has a similar goal, with an international flavor. Teachers and farm professionals go over budgeting and cash flow, farm transfer and estate planning, business planning, understanding farm insurance policies, creating a positive work environment, generational issues and action planning.
How Annie’s Project was born
As FARMING reported a year ago, Annette “Annie” Kolhagen grew up a townie in northern Illinois, hoping to marry a farmer, which she did. As Annie Fleck, she spent her lifetime learning how to be an involved business partner with her farmer-husband, navigating life’s struggles. Her daughter, Ruth Hambleton, observed the struggle. Later, as an extension farm business management specialist at the University of Illinois, Hambleton was in a position to provide guidance and help smooth the bumps that her mom had negotiated.
Annie’s Project is not just about bookkeeping and planting seed. It is also about living on a farm. Annie, born in 1922, was married for 50 years and died in 1997. She faced a lot of pressures – not the least of which was having three generations living under one roof. She faced pressure from her brother, sisters-in-law and her mother-in-law. Farm prices rose and fell as they always do. New regulations and tax rules were imposed. Yet through it all, Annie moved forward.
Many city women fall in love with a farmer and need to learn what farming and farm life entail. Annie, whose own dad was a firefighter and ran a concrete plant, did not have a farming background. Other women grow up in farm families and end up running the enterprise when their father or husband dies.
Women who master one skill or another as farm wives or farm managers share their lessons as mentors through Annie’s Project. Now, those success stories can be shared across borders and across oceans.
Project information is being translated into German and Spanish, as well as Turkish. During October, a meeting in Germany educates the educators, training the first group of instructors there. That will serve as proof of concept.
The next step, around the New Year, is to bring the program to Spain, again using the translation grant to be sure there is a credible transfer of the program documents and lectures to the local farmers. There will be another visit to Turkey later in 2017.
Although the agriculture in Spain or Germany may be more advanced than that found in many areas of Turkey or Guyana, the underlying need for education is similar. In many cases, women are just starting to realize their potential as farm owners, managers or partners. No matter what the language, there is a need to be aware of the benefits of business planning, financial management and sound decision-making.
With the help of American farm women who have participated in Annie’s Project, Suzanne’s Project promises to expand and extend that education across the globe.
All of the photos in Turkey were taken by Gamze Onur from Akdeniz University in Antalya, Turkey. All of the ones from Guyana except for the one with Brumfield and the three Suzanne’s Project graduates were taken by Paula Quintin from Rutgers University.
Read more: This is Annie’s Project