VOORHEESVILLE, N.Y. — California transplant Emily Vincent’s farm is in Albany County’s hill country, where winter arrived early this year, a far cry from the sunbathed West Coast weather she was used to.
She raises sheep for meat production with a herd of about 150 animals.
Vincent has already fulfilled her dream of leading a satisfying farm life, surrounded by upstate New York’s quiet rural beauty. But the farm’s growth has outpaced the knowledge she needs to run a successful operation.
“Costs have gotten higher,” she said. “I need to get ahead of the financial side and manage it better. I want to have a viable business, not just a lot of cute sheep running around.”
Many other women from the Capital Region feel the same way about their agricultural ventures. That’s why they’ve enrolled in Annie’s Project, a six-week course designed specifically for women that fosters problem-solving, record-keeping and decision-making skills.
The nationwide, non-profit program is currently offered in 33 states.
In Albany County, classes are held at Cornell Cooperative Extension offices, led by Extension educators Ashley Pierce and Sandy Buxton.
“In this first session, the goal is risk management, to help farm women run their business by keeping risk in mind and try to make sound financial and business decisions,” Pierce said. “We also want women to share with each other and have everyone interacting each week, not just listening to a speaker.”
Maggie Taylor and her husband, Evan, raise pigs and chickens at their Meadow Rise Farm because “we want control of our food sources, and offer that to the community as well.”
Relatively new to the area, Taylor said a chance to meet and network with other farm women is one of her main reasons for taking the course.
Winona Hathaway-Eastman and her husband, Scott, recently purchased Over East Family Farm in nearby Washington County, where they have 84 beef cattle. Nine years ago they had one animal, for their son, Connor.
“It’s his 4-H project gone wild,” Hathaway-Eastman joked.
Connor is now a college freshman, but still comes home regularly to help out, with long-range plans of taking things over some day.
“My husband and I both work full-time, too,” Hathaway-Eastman said. “Now that we’ve bought the farm we need to think more about being in business, rather than a huge hobby farm. I want to learn about things like insurance, how to obtain grants and farm succession planning.”
Other women have a variety of agricultural interests, from llamas to beekeeping and wine making.
Equine farm owner Julia Biernacki summed up her goal, which unites all class participants. “We need to learn how to run a business,” she said.
Classes vary each week with topics such as financial documents, human resources, meeting hiring obligations, and marketing, pricing and opportunity analysis.
“It’s interesting how and why things are different when you make that break into business from hobby farming,” Buxton said. “There’s a million things to pay attention to.”
In the first class, she and Pierce gave participants a brief personality quiz. Women answered a series of questions about their emotional makeup and character traits. Some people are analytical — calm, cool and collected — while others are more spontaneous and impulsive.
As an employer, farm owners should try to match people with the work they’re best suited for.
“Some jobs attract or need to have certain kinds of people,” Buxton said. “It’s important when you think about who you’re working with, what are their tendencies?”
Communication with employees, business partners and customers is also extremely critical.
Carolyn Abbott is general manager of Stanton Farms, one of Albany County’s largest dairies with 1,000 cows. She was previously the farm’s herdsman before getting into management.
“This is good knowledge to have,” she said. “People are harder to deal with than animals.”