Field Notes Blog

< View All Blog Posts

AgrAbility Keeps Farmers Farming


We recently interviewed Kendra Martin with AgrAbility of Pennsylvania. The AgrAbility PA project is designed to assist farmers and other agricultural workers with disabilities or long-term health conditions by providing the resources and support they need to live independently and to continue working in or return to production agriculture. During the interview, Kendra discussed the AgrAbility program and how it helps keep farmers farming. Listen to the full podcast episode with Kendra here.

Share with our listeners about AgrAbility, what you do and the services offered.

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians provides a critical service to the commonwealth agricultural community. Farming ranks as one of the most dangerous occupations in the country and farmers may struggle each day to keep up with the daily demands of production agriculture. AgrAbility PA assists farmers and agricultural workers with a disability or long-term health condition by providing services and support that they need to live independently and to continue working or to return to work in production agriculture.

AgrAbility PA is a statewide project. We help farmers across the state, regardless of zip code or county. We work with farmers that have a range of health conditions or differing abilities, as they continue their work in farming. Some examples might be arthritis, a spinal cord injury, an amputation, traumatic brain injury, back pain, other joint pain, including knee pain, hip pain, farmers that may have had a stroke, farmers that are dealing with diabetes, or visual or hearing loss, or respiratory conditions.

There are a range of things that we know farmers and agricultural workers are dealing with, in addition to the demands of farming. AgrAbility PA is here to help.

Let’s talk a bit more about the on-site assessments that you conduct. What’s involved in an assessment and what types of recommendations do you provide?

Yes, onsite assessments are really the hallmark of what we can provide a farmer. AgrAbility for Pennsylvania provides these work assessments to help determine what modifications, assistive technology or resources that individual might need to support them working in agriculture. These services are free to farmers and agricultural workers that qualify, and eligibility is pretty simple. Anyone working in agriculture who has a disability or a long-term health condition is eligible for AgrAbility services.

Give us a call, send us an email, connect with us on social media. We'd be happy to talk with you a little bit more to see if you would benefit from having one of these onsite farm assessments.

Each assessment is unique, but there are some basics that go into each one. One of our staff members will spend two to three hours with you on your farm. It's an informal, but yet a detailed evaluation and a conversation about your tasks on the farm. And we'll spend some time looking at the things you do and the chores or work you have on the farm. A majority of the time will be spent outdoors or in buildings on the property or around the farm. We'll look at equipment and job duties. We might ask you to demonstrate some of the tasks and show us what you do on the farm. With your permission, we'll take some photos and document some of the pieces of equipment that we see. The goal of this is to put together a list of recommendations so that we can assess your needs and figure out what type of equipment, resources or accommodations you might need to move forward.

We might also be accompanied by an occupational therapist. We will often bring or solicit the advice of an occupational therapist to go through your occupation and the work that make up your day. We may also be able to bring a representative from the state's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Their goal is to keep Pennsylvanians working despite a disability or limiting condition. That counselor might also be able to assist in finding some ways to work with a farmer, and for a farmer to be able to have some resource support from the state.

We do want to emphasize that this onsite farm assessment is not an inspection of your farm. We are at your farm to help you, the farmer. We are not there to inspect your farm. We do not work for a regulatory agency. Our primary goal is the health and safety of your work on the farm, and we want to be able to provide you with the information or resources that will benefit you and your farming operation.

Since the program has been in place for many years, could you share a few examples of how AgrAbility has helped farmers with disabilities?

One of the key improvements that we hope our presence brings, and we're able to leave behind with a farmer, is that they're able to go about their tasks and their work on the farm in a better, safer way after their interaction with us. One of the key pieces that we try to bring into the farmer's world is more information about assistive technology. Assistive technology is any item, equipment or product that is used to help increase, maintain or improve your functional capabilities.

Examples might be:

  • Larger, slip-resistant steps on a tractor or a lift to help access the tractor
  • Ergonomic seats to provide back and impact support
  • Motorized equipment versus manual equipment
  • Hitching systems that will reduce repetitive motions when dealing with equipment
  • Mobility aids
  • Utility vehicles
  • Action track wheelchairs
  • Other type of agriculturally-appropriate aids that will help a farmer move about the property

Also, looking at some of our key agricultural businesses, take dairy as an example, automatic takeoffs, rail systems, motorized feed carts or other items that can help improve the functionality on the farm. We worked with a man named Philip in Lawrence County, and we were able to modify his milking routine. He now uses automatic takeoffs and he installed gutter grates. It's improved his ability to keep working on his farm at his age.

We've also worked with veterans in farming. We know that there's a large population of veterans that are working in agriculture. AgrAbility has had the great honor to serve those individuals, and it is a tribute and a thank you to their service. Kathy in Claysburg, PA is a great example. She worked and served in the Army, and upon her retirement from the Army, is now selling produce and products under the Homegrown by Heroes and PA Preferred program.

It's also very inspiring to help farmers that are just beginning their career. We had an opportunity to meet Ryan near Blairsville, and he is running a dairy and beef operation that his father and grandfather have started. Unfortunately, Ryan was in an incident and needed to have more equipment to allow him to access the farm. We were able to work with Ryan to receive a flatbed truck lift from Life Essentials and a power wheelchair to give him greater access to the barns.

As we wrap up, please share how our listeners can contact AgrAbility PA for more information, and also feel free to mention anything else that is important for them to know. 

It's been so great to share some of this information with you. I did want to share one piece about funding. It is something that often comes up when we're talking about some of these pieces of assistive technology and some of these modifications or enhancements that we would like to see our farmers achieve. AgrAbility PA does not fund these pieces of equipment, however, our services and recommendations and the pieces to get the farmer to that point, those are free services.

It’s important that we are able to refer our farmers to great partners across the state in the financial realm, who can help them put the financing together so they can take advantage of the equipment to make their work productive. There are a number of nonprofits, small agencies and organizations like Farm Credit that can help. We're blessed that we have a bounty of financial resources to share with our farmers so that they can make the right decision that works for them. These are things that we can talk with a farmer about to get them started.

If any of this sounds of interest to your listeners, reach out to us. We are available by phone or email. We have a website, You can also connect with us on social media. We are on all of the major social media outlets, and with a quick search, you can come across our contact information.

< View All Blog Posts