Sumter County farmer Bonita Clemons spent four days on the Clemson University campus this spring at the urging of an experienced female farmer singing the praises of Annie’s Project.
“I came here to get empowered and to learn more and that is exactly what’s happened,” said Clemons, founder of Dianne’s Call, a nonprofit that provides nutrition education and works to increase access to healthy foods in underserved communities in the Midlands.
Annie’s Project is a four-day educational retreat for women that combines classroom instruction with farm tours. Clemson University Cooperative Extension has offered the program for six years at locations throughout South Carolina. More than 125 women have participated. This year’s retreat was May 17-20.
“Women are an underserved population when it comes to a lot of programming and as it turns out, more women now are getting into farming at an even greater rate than men,” said Clemson Extension agent Jennifer Boyles, Annie’s Project state coordinator.
The share of U.S. farms operated by women has nearly tripled over the past three decades, from 5 percent in 1978 to 14 percent by 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Annie’s Project was founded in Illinois a decade ago and named for a woman who spent a lifetime learning to be an involved business partner with her husband, a farmer.
Participants are diverse in age, background and agricultural experience. Some are college students. Some are retired. Some are professionals looking for new careers.
“We’ve had three generations of a family come in together,” Boyles said.
Presentations are taught by experts from Clemson University, the private sector and other agricultural agencies. Topics cover financial management, marketing, social media, risk assessment, insurance, law, estate planning and more.
“Because we’re new farmers, we have a lot to learn about the farming industry in general, and the bookkeeping and marketing, those are areas where we really need the help,” said Dana Hoffman of Gypsy Wind Farms in Fairfield County. “I saw this two years ago and wanted to come then but wasn’t able to do that, so I was really excited that it worked out for me this year.”
Annie’s Project at Clemson was sponsored by Cooperative Extension, ArborOne Farm Credit and AgSouth Farm Credit. The program is offered annually. Information is available at www.clemson.edu/scwagn.