Jim Brinkmann’s blindness does not keep him from helping others with vision problems reach their potential.
Brinkmann helps people with visual impairments succeed in agriculture, says Karen Funkenbusch, Missouri AgrAbility Project state director and University of Missouri Extension specialist. Brinkmann serves with Funkenbusch on the AgrAbility team. He is mid-Missouri district supervisor for Rehabilitation Services for the Blind (RSB), one of AgrAbility’s partners.
Brinkmann is also a sixth-generation Gasconade/Osage County farmer. One of his ancestors, Henrique Brinkmann, was the second farmer from Germany to settle in the area. Brinkmann knows firsthand that farming is not easy. And he knows it is even harder for people with vision problems. He helps make it possible for those who love agriculture and a rural lifestyle to make a living in their chosen profession, says Funkenbusch.
Brinkmann was born with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that progressed to total blindness. He could read while in high school and college. By age 24, he had only 5 percent of his vision. By 30, he could only perceive shapes.
Neither of his parents completed high school, and they urged him to attend college. He graduated from MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources with a degree in ag education and ag engineering. He earned master’s degrees in psychology and counseling.
Today, he manages a full-time job with RSB and a livestock operation on the family farm.
Brinkmann shows RSB and AgrAbility clients that success begins at home.
“You have to be successful in your personal life before you can be successful in your work life,” he says.
He reviews the home and workplace of his clients. He helps them develop “a road map to the future” for one year, three years and five years.
Brinkmann enlists the help of partners such as AgrAbility, MU Extension’s Business Development Program, the Farm Services Agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, USDA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and SCORE, a nonprofit that provides mentoring and counseling to small businesses.
Advances in technology have made adaptive devices for the blind more easily available and affordable. In his own operation, Brinkmann uses a Braille tape measure, a talking tire gauge, an audio carpenter’s level and a bar code scanner that reads out the names of chemicals, paints, livestock medication, oil and other materials.
Brinkmann navigates the farm’s pastures with the help of a cane. Landmarks and years of practice guide the way. He cannot drive and relies on his wife and a carpool to get to and from work.
He begins his day at 4:45 a.m., rising to do chores. He feeds the cows, opens chicken coops and checks the automatic watering tanks. He repeats this routine after his day at the office ends.
Brinkmann raises about 20 head of cows on the farm, a few goats and chickens. The cows are Polled Herefords bred to an Angus bull. Their gentle nature and calving ease appeal to him.
Brinkmann practices rotational grazing, so he does not need to grow his own hay. Before rotational grazing, he needed 150 bales of hay annually. Now he buys only 50.
Brinkmann says he raises the livestock for personal enjoyment and to support his “animal rescue habit.” Cats, dogs and other animals find a safe haven at the Brinkmann farm.
He also restores J.I. Case tractors. Before their deaths, his grandfather and father owned and operated the J.I. Case dealership in Morrison for many years. Brinkmann owns some of the tractors his father sold, including one his father used to teach him to farm.
Like the generations of work-hardy Brinkmanns who preceded him, he has a vision for hard work on the farm and helping others. He knows that knowledge and resources can help anyone who wants to be involved in agriculture succeed.
To learn more about Missouri’s Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, go to dss.mo.gov/fsd/rsb. To learn more about Missouri AgrAbility, go to agrability.missouri.edu.