Missouri AgrAbility, a project designed to keep farmers, ranchers and farm workers limited by a disability or chronic health condition employed in agriculture, has been awarded a grant to continue its services for another four years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded 21 grants totaling $4.1 million to land-grant universities to assist the growing population of farmers and ranchers living with a disability and to help these farmers continue to be active in production agriculture. MU’s program received $180,000.
AgrAbility links the Extension service at a land-grant university with a nonprofit disability service organization to provide practical education and direct assistance that promotes rural independence. The program offers practical solutions to individuals who work on small or large operations as well as services to hobby, part-time, farm workers or seasonal operators.
Karen Funkenbusch, director of AgrAbility, said everyone in agriculture should have access to the latest farm safety techniques and the most effective assistive technology solutions.
“The AgrAbility program enhances the quality of life for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities by helping them overcome barriers to continuing their chosen professions in agriculture,” she said. She has worked with the program for 20 years.
Missouri AgrAbility served 150 farmers and ranchers in 2014. Staff members from human environmental sciences and agricultural engineering extension, Lincoln University Cooperative Extension, Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program and Brain Injury Association of Missouri, Inc., provide educational workshops, on-site farm assessments, off-site visits, technical assistance and recommendations and resource materials to those limited by any type of physical, cognitive, illness-related disability or chronic health condition.
A recent project provided counseling and business contacts for Zane Volkmann, a 19-year-old horse trainer in New Franklin, Mo. He attends North Eastern Oklahoma A&M College but when not at school, he works with horses as a trainer and farrier in Howard County. Almost two years ago though, it was a different story. In a freak accident at a sale barn, Zane fell and was severely injured. After a road of recovery and help from the Missouri AgrAbility Project, Zane is back in the saddle and is managing his own thriving business.
Funkenbusch advised Zane as part of his summer internship at a Howard County ranch. She set goals with him to lay the groundwork to develop a business as horse trainer and farrier. She also encouraged him to avoid a second injury by wearing a helmet when riding an unfamiliar horse or on difficult terrain.
“AgrAbility helps you in every aspect of your injury,” Volkmann says. “They drive me forward. Just because you have a brain injury, it doesn’t mean you can’t perform at your full potential.”
“The passion of farmers is our passion,” Funkenbusch said. “We want that farmer to stay in the saddle of their horse or in their tractor seat.”
The Missouri AgrAbility Program is housed in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources with joint cooperation from the departments of Occupational and Physical Therapy in the School of Medicine, county Extension centers and the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, Inc., a nonprofit disability organization. Representatives from each of the entities form the management team.
Other key collaborating groups include the Missouri Alternatives Center, Small Farmers’ Innovative Outreach Program operated at Lincoln University, CDC Regional Arthritis Centers, USDA Farm Service Agency, and the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Vocational Rehabilitation and Disability Determinations Division and Rehabilitation Services for the Blind.
To see more photos of Zane Volkmann, visit CAFNR’s Flickr stream at http://bit.ly/MUagrability.