AgrAbility: A Report from Greater Minnesota

After a series of episodes including blackouts, dizzy spells, limited ability in his arm and leg, and seizure-like activity, John […]

After a series of episodes including blackouts, dizzy spells, limited ability in his arm and leg, and seizure-like activity, John was diagnosed with a brainstem stroke. Today, John feels lucky to have a majority of the function back in his left arm and leg, and he is back to farming activities. But things aren’t exactly the way they were before.

In a related scenario, Mike was in a motor vehicle accident while driving a fertilizer delivery truck for his off-farm job.

After months of dealing with hip and back pain from soft tissue injuries sustained in the accident, Mike is feeling much better. He requires fewer pain medications and is sleeping better. But things aren’t exactly the way they were before.

John and Mike are dealing with traumatic brain injuries. They both continue to have difficulty with problem-solving, short- and long-term memory loss, fatigue, and behavioral changes noticeable to their families and friends. These factors have dramatically affected their effectiveness and safety on the farm. These factors have also prevented them from returning to their off-farm jobs, which brought in additional income as well as necessary benefits, including health insurance. Things are definitely not the way they were before.

The Minnesota AgrAbility Project, a joint project of the Minnesota Extension Service and Goodwill/Easter Seals of Minnesota, offers education and assistance to help identify ways to accommodate disabilities, eliminate barriers, and create a favorable climate among rural service providers for people with disabilities. AgrAbility helps prevent people from being forced out of agriculture because of their disabilities, and provides them with ideas for safe and affordable modifications and solutions to help them maintain their businesses and lifestyles.

How did the Minnesota AgrAbility Project help John? He needed resources and support to choose farming as his primary income source, to replace health insurance for himself and his dependents, and to upgrade and modify his operation so that he could complete necessary tasks safely while using less energy. With much support from Minnesota Department of Economic Security Rehabilitation Services, John continues to farm with the help of his wife and son.

Mike also needed resources and support to maintain farming as his primary income source. He used the Minnesota AgrAbility Project to identify and locate resources for himself and his family in order to deal with behavior changes, to look for health insurance, and to attend “Farm Alarm: Coping with Stress” (an interactive theater presentation created by Theater At Work and the University of Minnesota Extension Service Farm Health and Safety Program). Mike continues to farm using a cooperative agreement with a neighbor. Mike provides the manpower and shares his farm equipment. His neighbor provides additional equipment and acts as the “supervisor.” Mike relies on his neighbor to assess, problem-solve, and trouble-shoot equipment problems. Together they plan for seed and other material needs.

John and Mike are two farmers who have been helped by the Minnesota AgrAbility Project. Farmers, agricultural workers, and farm family members, with chronic conditions (such as arthritis or emphysema) or injuries (such as amputations or traumatic brain injuries) that result in barriers to full participation in farm activities, are encouraged to contact the Minnesota AgrAbility Project for additional information and assistance. Outreach visits and ongoing assistance are provided at no cost to those in production agriculture.

For more information, contact Beth Zabel, Program Manager and OTR (Registered Occupational Therapist), at Rural Rehab Technology, 1618 South Broadway, New Ulm, MN 56073, 507-354-5380

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