About Annie’s Project
Annette (Kohlhagen) Fleck
Annie’s Project is based on the life Annette (Kohlhagen) Fleck, who grew up in a small town in northern Illinois. Her goal was to marry a farmer and she did. Annie spent her lifetime learning how to be an involved business partner with her husband. Together they did great things, but it wasn’t easy.
Challenges Annie faced included three generations living under one roof, low profitability, changing farm enterprises and raising a family. Annie faced pressure from brothers and 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 many painful sacrifices that tested her conviction to be married to a farmer. There were days of tears, anger and sorrow, but there were also days of laughter, contentment and accomplishment.
Through it all, Annie kept records. She knew deadlines, reporting requirements and tax issues. She did the little management jobs that supported big management decisions. She kept the farm business running, she kept the family running, and she kept her marriage.
When big decisions had to be made, Annie was there with her records. To increase cash flow, Annie sent her husband to work off the farm while she milked cows and kept an egg route in Chicago. Eventually, her records guided them to discontinue an egg laying enterprise, a seasonal turkey enterprise and a dairy enterprise. Other farmers with larger equipment and more resources could better run the farm, so Annie and her husband became the landowners renting to other farmers. She paid expenses and marketed corn and soybeans.
When others looked upon decisions Annie had helped to make, their opinions were not always kind, and that was very hard on Annie, but she stuck with her decisions. She corrected mistakes and learned from experience. As an ex-school teacher, Annie had never-ending patience and the ability to weather bad times.
Annie was married to a farmer for 50 years and always did things her way. She died a wealthy woman in 1997.
One of Annie’s daughters, Ruth, married a man from a farm, and the story started all over. One exception to Ruth's story: while Annie would never dream of working off the farm, Ruth worked for University of Illinois Extension as a farm business management and marketing educator. Upon her retirement in 2009, she started the nonprofit Annie’s Project. Throughout her 30-year Extension career, Ruth observed and experienced farm women's need for information and education. This desire for education shaped Annie’s Project.
Farm women have diverse backgrounds, some of which prepare women well for the responsibilities of running a farm business. Other women come into farming operations by marrying men who happen to be farmers, or by their spouse or family members dying and leaving them in charge. Being married to a farmer or being a woman in a male dominated business has its challenges. Some women have learned to handle this responsibility very well and are valuable mentors to women who have not had it so easy. Through Annie’s Project, Ruth takes the skills instilled in her by her mother and mentors and educates farm women. They find answers, strength and friendship in Annie’s Project. Farm women grow in confidence, business skills and community prestige.
Other women and men who are equally skilled, educated and passionate about the role of farm women have expanded the program into surrounding states. Describing Annie’s Project to farm women often makes their eyes light up. Instructors, as well as students, seem to find a piece of Annie in their lives.
To fill an educational need for risk management, Annie’s Project is dedicated to the life of Annette (Kohlhagen) Fleck (1922-1997).
—Ruth Fleck Hambleton, Founder of Annie’s Project
Mother, wife, and educator