There's a new resource for women who are interested in building or improving a viable farm business.

Annie's Project is a free, six-session training course being offered by the West Virginia University Extension Service that provides risk management training in business planning, record keeping, financial analysis, farm and food safety, and networking.

This localized approach to empowering women in agriculture is customized to meet the needs in our region, providing a unique peer-learning environment and helping ensure that every class is a valuable learning experience.

Anne Banks, a lifelong farmer from Ritchie County, is looking forward to learning new methods and to offering encouragement to young women who are just getting into farming.

"I like to see that these young girls are able to be confident that they can be a farmer, not just a farmer's helper," Banks said. "I like to see women able to express their way of doing it (farming) instead of trying to mimic the men," she added, "because women do approach it differently."

She feels that her years on the farm can help her offer real world advice that will help others be successful.

"The risks and the problems are probably always going to be there, regardless of how smart you are," Banks explained, "and you have to learn to handle that."

Organizers like WVU Extension Service's Dee Singh-Knights agree that giving women the chance to build their confidence is key.

"The topics aren't new but the delivery system is," Singh-Knights, an agriculture economics specialist, explained. "We're providing the opportunity to learn from local experts in an environment where women can relate to the struggles that their peers have faced in this industry."

Twenty-nine percent of West Virginia's farmers are women, according to Jennifer Williams, WVU Extension Service's agriculture and natural resources director. No stranger to the farm herself, Williams received the 2011 Woman in Agriculture Award from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. She said that training opportunities like Annie's Project are still a fairly new concept in the industry.

The number of women farming in West Virginia continues to rise significantly. Singh-Knights points to the fact that from 2002 to 2007, female farm-owners or operators in the state increased 31 percent, which was about three times the national average. That makes Annie's Project a good bet for West Virginia.

The program will be offered in six locations around the state during the upcoming months. It will also be offered entirely online in the spring. Annie's Project training is administered by members of the WVU Extension Service Women in Agriculture team. Special topics training will be performed by local experts dealing with site-specific concerns.

Thanks to grant funding, there is no charge for the training, but pre-registration is required and space is limited. To find out the Annie's Project location nearest you, visit www.anr.ext.wvu.edu/ag-women. You may also contact Singh-Knights (dosingh-knights@mail.wvu.edu) at 304-293-7606, WVU Extension Agent Daisy Fryman (daisy.fryman@mail.wvu.edu) at 304-462-7061 (Gilmer County), or 304-354-6332 (Calhoun County).

Annie' s Project is offered in partnership with the WVU Small Farm Center, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Farm and Food Coalition, and Farm Credit of the Virginias. Grant funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education.

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