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Annie’s Project: Boone County farmer shares her story

Nicole Jonas operates Red Granite Farm with her young family in Boone, Iowa. “We have 2.5 acres of produce, 150 laying hens, and 200 varieties of perennials all locally grown which we sell at the North Grand Farmers Market in Ames, on our farm on Fridays or through special events we hold through the year,” Jonas explained.

As self-described owner, laborer and “chief of everything”, Jonas runs the business with help from her husband, who is a horticultural researcher. On occasion they hire a few college students to help out. Jonas likes the size the business is now. She and her husband strive to produce about all they can on the land they have while maximizing the best use of her time without needing much outside help.

That’s where Annie’s Project comes in. Whether farm women are working day-to-day in the farm business or contributing through other roles on or off the farm, Annie’s Project fosters decision-making skills. The mission of Annie’s Project is to empower farm women to be better business partners through networks and by managing and organizing critical information.

Annie’s Project, an agricultural business risk management education program for women, has successfully reached more than 8,000 farmers and ranchers in 30 states. Annie’s Project teaches women to better manage financial, human resources, legal, marketing and production risks on the farm.

“The best part for me was the jump start on the business plan. I always meant to write one, but never started on it,” Jonas said. “In other classes in the past we were strongly encouraged to write one, but never forced,” she added with a laugh. Before taking Annie’s Project she felt like her business was really just a sideline business. “Taking Annie’s Project helped me get things lined up, focused, and turned around. It made me realize things I needed to be doing or be doing better on Red Granite Farm and helped me focus on it as a real business.”

Jonas knows the importance of continuing to add value to her farm business. Red Granite Farm has planned five special event weekends this year on the last weekends of April, May and June and the first weekends of September and October. During these weekends she has perennials for sale. The Homeshed, a vintage home décor and gardening store run by Katie Olthoff (also an Annie’s Project graduate), is open on these weekends, as well. The shared marketing and customers helps them both. In addition, throughout the year Jonas hosts garden walks, a potting party right before Mother’s Day, and garden club visits. She also finds that giving library talks provides good and free advertisement for her business.

Annie’s Project educators also understand the necessity of growing and diversifying small, niche, beginning and value added agricultural businesses. “With the growth and emphasis on local foods, more people are interested in pursuing this segment of agricultural production,” said Marsha Laux, Annie’s Project state coordinator and program coordinator with Iowa State University Extension’s Value Added Agriculture Program. “This requires careful planning and using the right tools and strategies.”

Now another central Iowa value added agriculture course is coming to Ames this March. This special value added agriculture Annie’s Project course takes place in four, six-hour sessions. Course curriculum covers five areas of agricultural risk: financial, human resources, legal, marketing and production. Women will learn more about:

• Financial ratios, balance sheets, budgeting, enterprise analysis and business planning.

• Human resource management, communication styles, and farm family insurance needs.

• Legal issues, estate laws, property title, and employee requirements.

• Marketing plans, access to market information, and direct marketing methods.

• Production tools, farmland leasing, USDA programs and niche production protocols.

“By bringing local professionals into the classroom, women considering or involved in adding value to their on-farm production will develop new networks and be able to utilize new resources to grow their businesses,” said Margaret Smith, Annie’s Project educator and ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture Program Specialist. Besides presentations, there will be in-class activities and discussions based on participant questions, as well as follow-up activities to complete at home.

The Women Food and Ag Network is partnering with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Farm Credit Services of America and the United States Department of Agriculture to offer this course. The class will be taught over four weeks on Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 7, 14, 21, and 28, at the Des Moines Area Community College – Hunziker Center, 1420 S. Bell Ave. in Ames, IA. The registration cost is $75.00 and includes course materials and lunch each session.

Those interested in the Value Added Agriculture Annie’s Project course can find more information and register online at www.aep.iastate.edu/annie, or contact Lani McKinney at the Value Added Agriculture office at 515-294-9483, or lanim@iastate.edu.

“The Value Added Agriculture Annie’s Project course I took was especially nice because of its focus on small niche farms. It wasn’t just focused on corn, soybeans, pigs and cows. The other people taking the class were in the same situation I was so we could share with each other,” says Jonas.

The course is part of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network “Harvesting Our Potential” program. Funding is provided by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19573. It is also part of the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach USDA Risk Management Agency Community Partnership Grant # RMA-RPG05162.

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