GEORGETOWN — Jennifer Stalford waited two years for an open spot with Annie’s Project, an educational retreat for women farmers hosted each year by Clemson University Cooperative Extension.

The wait was worth it. Stalford said she appreciated the small, intimate setting that allowed her to get expert answers to all of her questions on managing an agribusiness.

“I was able to implement things into my business before I even left,” said Stalford, who in 2011 started J and J Farms, a 60-acre tree and vegetable farm in York County. “I learned things that were absolutely pivotal for me; business aspects I just didn’t understand the importance of or didn’t even know existed.”

Annie's Project attendees participate in an exercise.

Annie’s Project attendees participate in an exercise.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Clemson Extension is bringing the program to South Carolina for the fifth year May 4–7 at the Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science in Georgetown. Space is limited and registration is due by April 11. Registration is available online.

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.

The four-day event includes educational presentations, networking opportunities and a tour of the Baruch Institute. Presentation topics cover financial management, marketing, social media, risk assessment, insurance, law, estate planning and more.

Presenters include representatives from Clemson University, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, AgSouth Farm Credit and ArborOne Farm Credit. Representatives from the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program will participate in a panel discussion.

“What was attractive to me about Annie’s Project was it is everything all in one. This is stuff that I couldn’t find anywhere else,” Stalford said.

Annie's Project participants receive instruction on business plan, law, insurance, marketing and other topics.

Annie’s Project participants receive instruction on business plan, law, insurance, marketing and other topics.
Image Credit: Clemson University

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.

“Women are the fastest-growing segment in agriculture right now,” said Clemson Extension agent and Annie’s Project state coordinator Jennifer Boyles. “Some are looking for something new. They want to work with the earth. A lot of them are retiring from careers or they are receiving family land through estates. They are seeing that farming is very gratifying.”

To date, more than 75 South Carolina women have participated in Annie’s Project, Boyles said.

“They really get to know each other and network and bond,” she said.

Stalford remains in the contact with the members of her class. They support each other and offer business advice, she said.

Annie's Project participants embrace at the conclusion of the four-day retreat.

Annie’s Project participants embrace at the conclusion of the four-day retreat.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Women from across the state attend. They’re diverse in age and background. Some are college students. Some are retired women. Some are professionals looking for new careers.

“We have a really diverse group,” Boyles said. “We’ve had three generations of a family come in together.”

The program is sponsored by Clemson Cooperative Extension, the S.C. Women’s Agricultural Network, ArborOne Farm Credit and AgSouth Farm Credit. Attendance costs $125, which covers all materials, meals and lodging.

For more information, contact Boyles at jbyles@clemson.edu.

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