December 2013
Simple Times

Annie’s Project

Ana Kelly (center) talks with Andy and Paula Kemp of A&P Farm.  

Helping Women in Agriculture

We are kind of accidental farmers," Paula Kemp explained about her and her husband Andy’s 5-year tenure in the agriculture world.

The couple moved to acreage in the Gallant area (in St. Clair County but near Etowah) from the more metropolitan Trussville area because they simply wanted to be in the country.

"I continued to work off the farm, but Andy worked on the farm and kind of dabbled in farming," Paula told those at Annie’s Project in Blount County.

But it wasn’t long before the farming "bug" bit Paula as well.

"There’s just something about watching a seed grow into food for people that is fascinating," she added.

Around 2007, their first year as "full-time" farmers, they grew one acre of vegetables and sold them at two farmer’s markets.

The next year, they increased it to two acres.

"We wanted to see how much we could grow and how much we could sell," Paula recalled.

Soon they were farming "acres of strawberries," 200 peach trees, vegetables grown primarily in two high tunnel houses, and having to hire full- and part-time help as they sold at eight farmers’ markets.

Andy feels they were at an advantage by "being so green and not knowing anything."

  Sharon Rose Murphree, Brandy Abel and Stephanie Miller at Annie’s Project.

"We learned just about everything from the Extension Service," he said. "We had the advantage because we learned everything the right way from them in the beginning."

Their A&P Farms took a huge hit when Alabama’s immigration policies went into effect. Full- and part-time workers were harder to find and the couple now are both basically retired.

During the the six-week Annie’s Project course, the Kemps were some of the most popular speakers.

Paula explained the Top Ten Lessons for new growers including the importance of variety, the Extension service’s information, gauging labor, estimating market value, testing the soil, attending classes and workshops, making a business plan, advantages of laying plastic, the importance of early planning, and how vital regularly scheduled spraying and fertilization plans can be.

Annie’s Project groups have been meeting around the United States for close to a decade. It was founded by Ruth Fleck Hambleton in honor of her mother Annette "Annie" Kohlhagen Fleck.

Annie was married to a farmer for more than 50 years and she died in 1997 a wealthy woman and "doing things her way," according to the Annie’s Project website. But things weren’t always that easy.

Annie faced many obstacles including three generations living under one roof on the farm, and low profitability left little money to raise her four children.

According to Annie’s Project’s information, "through it all, Annie kept records" to show what was profitable and what was not.

"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."

One of the couple’s daughters, Ruth, married a man from a farm. But while Annie never would have dreamed of working off the farm, Ruth worked for the University of Illinois Extension Service as a Farm Business Management and Marketing Educator.

When she retired in 2009, she started the not-for-profit Annie’s Project to help women from diverse backgrounds as they made risk-management decisions about their own farms - whether large or small.

Meeting for six weeks, beginning the third week in September, the Blount County session of Annie’s Project was enjoyed by women who certainly fit the description of "diversity" that Annie and Ruth aspired to.

Some farmed alone. Some with husbands or other family members. Some are young with young children. Some older with grown children who sought other careers. Some are pursuing agricultural issues full time while others dabble part time as they consider their futures. Some are leaning toward basic agriculture crops while others are seeking to specialize in value-added products.

Sherry Brewer, a Locust Fork English teacher, also sponsors her school’s Master Gardeners Club and has "farming plans for my future, but I’m just not sure what they are."

Wanda Merrit and her husband own the Hillview Farms Bed and Breakfast in Cleveland, and grow and sell blackberries - both winning prizes at the Blount County Fair recently for their jelly!

Ana Kelly and her family bought a farm in Gallant and have just been licensed as perhaps the only licensed sheep dairy in Alabama, making and selling gourmet cheese at venues such as Pepper Place.

Rita Hutcheson Cobbs is a member of a group who regularly catches swarms of bees and she also has goats, chickens, raised bed gardens and more at her Somerville home/farm.

Lisa Taylor, Blount County, is unsure about her future in agriculture, but knows she wants to make a living at home closer to the land.

Intha Rafadin raises goats for milk and meat at her Empire farm and is a fiber artist using mainly local fibers.

Stephanie Miller’s family farms 1,200 acres of cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat and cattle in Blount County, but has a Boaz address.

Brandy Abel and her family have chicken houses and cattle on 100 acres in Cleveland.

Rita Briscoe and her husband raise cattle dogs, have a forest and are in the process of getting honeybees on their Douglas acreage.

Sharon Rose Murphree has previously lived on a farm for years, but is now considering several options for her future.

I raise goats, laying hens, ducks, Angora rabbits and produce on my Blount County homestead.

Ruth Brock began working for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service in January 2006 and coordinated the Blount Annie’s Project group. She and her husband live in Ashville with several pets, including a miniature horse Nina and a miniature donkey Norman.

She has a master’s in financial planning and an Education Specialist in Adult Education and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Adult Education through Auburn University.

Brock led the group in several informative discussions concerning financial planning, finances on the farm, agricultural expenses, the importance of writing a business plan and including your farm’s assets and more.

Dr. Gary Lemme and Ruth Brock talk during a break of the Blount County’s Annie’s Project meeting.  

Dr. Gary Lemme, executive director of Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, noted that by 2040 to 2050, the population of the world is expected to be 9 billion, and small farms and big agribusiness must work together in order to feed the world.

Lemme noted statistics showing Blount County has 606 full-time farmers with 808 part-time farmers, of which 1,237 are male and 177 female, with the average age of farmer being 57.5 years. A startling statistic, though, is that 77 percent of the farms in Blount County make less than $20,000 per year.

Lemme noted that U.S. Census data showed the number of women going into farming overall has almost doubled from 5 to 10 percent.

He urged everyone to strive to "Shape Your Own Future" through "Dream It, Plan It and Do it!"

Dr. Lucretia Octavia Tripp, an Auburn University associate professor in the College of Education, focused on learning your own personality traits and the traits of those around you in order to be a better business person, family member and community achiever. And her presentation was just plain fun!

Karen Wynne, a soil scientist and farming systems consultant from Hartselle, led a lively discussion on women in agriculture and what they must be ready to face.

Other speakers and discussion leaders included Robert Page, Risk Management; Donna Shanklin, Good Agricultural Practices; Cynthia Smith, Farm Credit Services; Dr. Robert Tufts, Tax and Estate Planning (with family members and spouses attending with the Annie’s Project members); Dr. Jatunn Gibson; Angela Treadaway, Food Entrepreneurship; Synithia Williams, Stress Management for the Busy Business Woman; and Sallie Lee, beekeeping.

Handouts were plentiful and provided additional "homework" for the women to complete between sessions and for use in their own farm and financial planning.

But most agreed it was the fellowship between women of all ages who are involved in agriculture that was the most vital ingredient of Annie’s Project! We think Annie would be proud!

For more information on Annie’s Project, contact your local Extension service office.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer and homesteader in Blount County and can be reached through her website Information is also there on ordering her recently published book Simple Times at Old Field Farm that contains many of her past "Simple Times" articles.