Finds solutions to limitations caused by disability or disease
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
What happens when physical limitations keep a farmer from farming — his livelihood and his life? AgrAbility helps to answer that and similar questions for farmers across the country, giving them hope.
“It’s amazing how many disabled farmers are out there,” said Dan Stores with the Minnesota AgrAbility Project. “Farming is talked about as the second most dangerous occupation, after mining.”
AgrAbility helps farmers in a wide variety of limiting circumstances. Disabling limitations range from spinal cord injuries and amputations to respiratory problems, back pain, heart conditions, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, cancer, vision loss or hearing loss.
Over the past three years, Stores has worked with many farmers in wheelchairs who have upper body strength “who just want to get out there and combine or plant,” he said. “There are so many possibilities out there for farmers who are injured.
“We have helped farmers with arthritis by extending tractor or combine steps so the first step up is not so big. Hand rails are installed where possible,” said Stores. “We find ways to keep them from having to climb up grain bins, like indicators on the sides. We’ve put staircases on the outside so there is no need for ladders.”
AgrAbility works in about 22 states, Stores said, with grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. Minnesota has had the project for more than 20 years.
“Many farmers think, ‘If you take me off the farm, take me off in a bag,’” Stores said. “They don’t want to leave the farm; they want to continue to be involved in the operation.”
One Minnesota farmer who has continued farming with help from AgrAbility is David Glamm of Blue Earth County. Glamm was having trouble with his silo unloader on July 4, 2005. The cover had rusted away and not been replaced. When Glamm pushed the machine with his left foot, it grabbed him.
“It had my pants leg wrapped so tightly around my leg that it acted as a tourniquet,” he said. “It’s a good thing I was wearing long pants; I would have bled out within a minute.”
Glamm’s left leg was amputated below the knee, and he spent 10 drugged days in the hospital. He didn’t have to spend time worrying about the farm because “I had good help,” he said.
One of Glamm’s neighbors had continued farming after losing part of a leg due to diabetes. After his accident, Glamm was referred to another farmer whose leg had been removed above the knee.
“I thought, ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?’” Glamm said. “I never thought I wouldn’t recover. I had so much support from my wife, friends and neighbors.”
Eventually, Glamm started to think that there should be some help for farmers with disabilities. He gathered a group together to discuss his future in farming.
His lender, accountant, milk cooperative representative, a neighbor, the regional dairy specialist, among others, gathered to answer Glamm’s main question — with a lost leg, now what?
“I provided them with my financial records and other paperwork and they agreed that the best option for me was to continue farming,” said Glamm. “Then the dairy specialist told me, ‘We have to contact Minnesota AgrAbility for you.’”
Free of charge, someone came to Glamm’s farm for a tour and asked countless questions and watched closely.
“He wanted me to show what I do every day, to figure out how to make changes that would make things easier for me,” Glamm said.
Glamm was given a binder showing dozens of gadgets that were available to help him.
“Some are expensive, some aren’t,” he said. “We had many conversations and came up with a list of 10 to 12 goodies, things that were changed or added on the farm.”
Once a plan was in place, the 29-page assessment was forwarded to Vocational Rehabilitation, an organization that helps fund people with disabilities.
“Seventy-five percent of the funding is federal, 25 percent is from the state,” Glamm said.
One change that was not too costly was the addition of wheels on metal gates into the feed lot, allowing them to roll rather than having to be picked up and carried. The cost was about $60 per gate.
Automatic hitches were added to vehicles, allowing Glamm to remain in the tractor during a change.
“You can unhook a wagon and think it’s level, then it rolls,” he said. “But if you’re in the tractor, you can’t get pinned.”
Metal grab bars were installed near difficult steps around the farm.
“We farmers don’t realize as we age, the abuse our bodies take,” said Glamm. “We also want to prevent a secondary injury from happening when overusing another part of the body to compensate for an injury.”
Glamm’s right knee is having trouble now after hopping around on that leg before he was fitted for the left prosthesis in 2005. The sooner AgrAbility is involved, the better for the farmer.
Other farmers around the state have benefitted from AgrAbility. A fence-line feeder was developed for a farmer with hemophilia who was getting knocked down by his goats. It hangs on the fence, and now the farmer can feed the animals from outside the fence.
For a farmer with Parkinson’s Disease, a walkway inside a fence was built to allow him to enter and exit a field easily without worrying whether his animals would get loose.
“There are lots of accommodations,” Stores said. “We just have to identify the barriers — what it is the farmer is having a hard time doing. Every farmer is different.”
“AgrAbility is one of the best-kept secrets, but we don’t want that — we want to get the word out,” Glamm said.
To view some of the gadgets available through AgrAbility, go to www.agrability.org/Toolbox/index.cfm.
For more information call (612) 518-3311.