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ND extension official honored for Annie’s Project work

Willie Huot says he recognized the value of Annie’s Project when he first heard about it at a national conference in 2005. The Grand Forks (N.D.) County Extension Service agent helped establish the program across North Dakota the following year, adding innovations that subsequently were used in other states, too.

Earlier this month, Annie’s Project officially recognized Huot’s contributions, presenting him with its first-ever Women in Agriculture Educators Award. He was the only person in the nation to receive it.

“I was in total shock,” Huot says of the award. “It was very meaningful to me.”

Annie’s Project seeks to help farm and ranch women become more involved in the business operation. It was named in honor of Annie Fleck, an Illinois farm wife who spent many years learning to become a better business partner with her husband.

It was launched in 2003 by University of Illinois extension educator Ruth Hambleton, the daughter of Annie Fleck. Bob Wells, a University of Iowa extension educator, later helped the program expand. The Women in Ag Educators Award was created to honor the memory of Wells, who died last year.

Huot was nominated by his extension peers in North Dakota and was selected for his leadership and dedication to Annie’s Project, says Chris Boerboom, North Dakota State University Extension Service director.

After Huot learned of Annie’s Program in 2005, he worked with Minnesota officials to establish a joint North Dakota-Minnesota program in 2006. Huot initiated using a combination of interactive TV and local speakers who appeared in person at each location.

Doing so cut the program’s cost substantially and allowed it to be offered at 16 North Dakota sites in 2007, up from just four in 2006.

North Dakota is one of a handful of states, if not the only state, to deliver the program with no grant money, relying instead on registration money and private partnerships, Huot says.

Other states later adapted using a combination of interactive TV and local speakers, he says.

Annie’s Project in North Dakota also was a leader in developing a manual for local facilitators. Other states later used the North Dakota manual as a model for manuals of their own, he says.

Huot says the manual and the mix of interactive TV and local speakers contributed to him receiving the first Women in Ag Educators Award.

North Dakota’s Annie’s Project model later was useful in helping to establish a farm and ranch transition program across the state, he says.

Helping women in ag

More than 1,000 women, most from North Dakota and a few from South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, too, have participated in Annie’s Project in North Dakota, Huot says.

“It really helps women in agriculture become more engaged and actively involved in the business side of the farm or ranch operation,” he says.

Women can be particularly useful in marketing because “they have a different sense of marketing (than men). They approach it more analytically than men,” Huot says.

Since it was established, Annie’s Project has been taught in 34 states.

More information: www.extension.ias The website includes state contacts for Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota. Huot remains the North Dakota contact.