According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States (stuntmen and law enforcement less so). In Maine, there are an estimated 5,700 farmers, farm family members, or farm workers with a chronic health condition or disability. Maine AgrAbility provides consultative services and technical assistance, works with rural agriculture, rehabilitation, and health care professionals to support Maine farmers with disabilities and their families, so they can continue to have successful careers in agriculture.
“While vocational rehabilitation services exist, such agencies and personnel may not be familiar with the physical challenges of farming and are not fully equipped to accommodate those in the agricultural sector,” said Lani Carlson, Maine AgrAbility Program’s Project Coordinator. “This is where the Maine AgrAbility program comes in to assist.”
For her part, Carlson has a family farm and ran a CSA for 3 years. As Maine AgrAbility’s project coordinator, she serves as the lead contact in the state for marketing, education and outreach. Her focus is farmers, farm family members, and farm workers as well as the vocational rehabilitation specialists in the state, healthcare and rehab professionals, and other groups that work with farmers ( from insurance to equipment dealers).
Disabilities can range from arthritis to amputation, hearing or vision loss to mobility issues. The health condition or disability does not have to be from an agricultural related incident. See case examples here.
An AgrAbility specialist works directly with the farmer, addressing whatever needs or barriers are facing the farmer at the time (i.e. developing a business plan, on farm assessments to identify barriers, and help finding the right tool or adaptive tool, or modified practice to keep working/farming , and finding/connecting the farmer to the right resources/networks for funding or rehab.
The Toolbox Assistive Technology Database is full of products that may assist farmers when an accident, injury, or illness makes doing farm tasks more difficult. Search examples include: Livestock Handling and Housing (beef cattle, dairy cattle, fencing and gates, general livestock, horses, poultry, sheep and goats, and swine) and Tractors and Combines (control modifications, hitching, operator station access, and operator station accessories). According to Carlson, the best way to access the Toolbox is to search for a specific tool adaption. I tried it out searching Livestock and Housing: Poultry: Poultry Production/Processing Equipment: Layer Nests. At first, I couldn’t tell what made these layer nests any different from the kind I’d built. Carlson explained, it all depends on what your limitations are – an able bodied farmer could process their poultry without too many fancy tools, but a farmer with mobility or grip issues would need to have some assistive technology to process their poultry. For example a killing cone is not necessary if you have 2 good arms, but if you don’t, the cone gives you a different handling option. Same goes for the tabletop picker idea. The nesting box allows a housing location for your poultry that can be mounted at any height depending on your mobility and location needs.
Maine AgrAbility is part of a nationwide network of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs begun through the 1990 Farm Bill. Maine AgrAbility is a non-profit collaboration of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, and Alpha One.
If you know a farmer, farm family member or farm worker in Maine with a disability who might benefit from this outreach project, please encourage them to request assistance. You can request assistance in a number of ways, including calling the AgrAbility Coordinator at 207.944.1533 or 1.800.287.1471 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a farmer, farm family member or farm worker with a disability in Maine, you may also apply for a work site assessment by filling out and submitting an online Assistance Request Form or printing out and mailing in a completed Assistance Request Form (Word).
(Image from Maine AgrAbility Toolbox.)