- 1. Resources for those living in rural areas
- 2. Resources for farmers and ranchers with disabilities
- 3. Relevant articles
1. Resources for those living in rural areas
1.1. Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities
Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities
The U.S. Department of Education funds the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities to explore issues important to the 12.5 million rural Americans with disabilities and develop solutions to the problems they encounter in accessing telecommunications, becoming effective self-advocates and community leaders, and in living independent, healthy lives.
1.2. Rural Caregivers Web Site
Caregiving is always challenging. However, for rural caregivers, it is even more difficult because of factors such as geographical isolation, gaps in rural service delivery systems, and the unique needs of agricultural workers with disabilities. Ruralcare.info is designed to help bridge the information gap and assist in creating a web support community for rural caregivers. Features a large collection of links to helpful sites for caregivers on topics ranging from resource materials to finances.
1.3. Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL)
The Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) is a national grass roots, consumer controlled, nonprofit membership organization consisting of centers for independent living, their satellites and branch offices, statewide independent living councils, other organizations and individuals concerned with the independent living issues of people with disabilities living in rural America.
2. Resources for farmers and ranchers with disabilities
The AgrAbility Project was created to assist people with disabilities employed in agriculture. The mission of AgrAbility is to enhance quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities, so that they, their families, and their communities continue to succeed in rural America. Their priorities include gainful employment in production agriculture or a related occupation; access to appropriate assistive technology needed for work and daily living activities; evidence-based information related to the treatment and rehabilitation of disabling conditions; and targeted support for family caregivers of AgrAbility customers. AgrAbility addresses a wide variety of disabling conditions in agriculture, including spinal cord injury and paralysis.
2.2. The Breaking New Ground Resource Center
Since its inception in 1979, the Breaking New Ground Resource Center in Purdue's Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering has become internationally recognized as the primary source for information and resources on rehabilitation technology for persons working in agriculture.
2.3. Barn Builders and Caregivers Directory
A voluntary peer support network of farmers and ranchers with disabilities from across the nation has been developed into a directory for your convenience. The list includes people willing to become personally involved in the lives of others who might benefit from their prior experiences. This edition of the directory contains information from farmers and caregivers representing 23 states and Canada who have volunteered to be of assistance, if called upon. The Web version of the Barn Builders Directory is available at www.barnbuilders.info. However, it is currently under revision.
2.4. Canadian Farmers with Disabilities Registry
The CFWDR has become Canada's primary resource center for information on farming with a disability. The program publishes a regular newsletters, has hosted several workshops and has published an extensive resource manual on assistive technology collected from Canadian farmers.
3. Relevant articles
3.1. The Last Thing I Want to Do: Tales of a Reluctant Farmer
By Tim Gilmer
As a kid, I used to spend a couple of weeks each summer at "The Ranch," a magical oasis in California's arid San Joaquin Valley. The family-owned property contained a eucalyptus grove, lily pond, reservoir and hundreds of steers, horses, chickens and pigs, all bound by fields of alfalfa and barley. Beyond, thousands of acres of tumbleweed desert radiated toward distant mountain ranges to the east, south and west. To the north, the land stretched forever, proof enough to an emerging consciousness that the world, despite Columbus, was really flat.
My dad and his brother ran the cattle business from a nearby small town, Wasco. Each year in sweltering July, my brother, cousins and I descended upon the oasis. I was the youngest, always lagging as we made our barefoot rounds from the mud-molded reservoir banks past the smelly chicken coops, grunting pigs and flyswatting horses to the main corral where the steers panted in the sun. Although captivated by the real-life spectacle of the ranch, I lived in fear of almost anything that moved. The chickens wanted to peck me, the horses would kick me if I walked too close, and the pigs waited to trample me in the mud. A skittish steer was sure to set off a stampede if I looked at him sideways. By the age of seven I had made up my mind. No 4-H or FFA for me. The words "ranch" and "farm" had no place in my future.
By the age of 17, though, I had grown dependent on summer jobs in potato-packing sheds. Between my junior and senior years in high school I "followed the spuds" to eastern Washington with a migrant crew. At the conclusion of the six-week season there, I traveled back to California by way of Portland, Ore. The freeway seemed to cut the city in half, exposing rain-stained buildings, the ugly backside of the city and the dirty river that ran through it. Another avoidance warning instantly formed: Portland was the last place I ever wanted to live.
Later, about to graduate from UCLA with a degree in English, I made another negative decision: I would never teach. I was tired of sitting in classrooms for most of my life. Also, a couple of years earlier I had undergone a sudden transformation--from college baseball player to instant paraplegic--and had since been informed by a pretty graduate student, a quadriplegic herself, that the L.A. City Board of Education did not hire teachers who use wheelchairs.
So. My list of no-nos was complete. No farming or ranching, no living in Portland and no teaching. These were the last things I would ever do.
And indeed they were. As I write this, it is decades later and I am sitting in my faculty office at Clackamas Community College. In a few minutes I will take down my teaching shingle for the day and drive home to my nearby farm on the outskirts of Portland.
Grabbed by Farmland
July 11, 1965: One moment I looked down from a single-engine Cessna at the golden Coast Mountains, miniature whitecaps and the perfect curvature of the Pacific horizon (the world really was round!), and the next moment I lay in the wreckage of the plane next to my friend, the pilot. Never mind the how or why of the crash. Let's just say two young men in a small plane are no match for a mountain. In an instant my friend's life ended and my life in a wheelchair began.
Uncertain of how to reinvent myself, I managed to return to college and graduate while struggling with my new body image. Then I tried out a few roles--social worker, office flunky, wannabe documentary filmmaker, piano salesman, library helper--none of which led anywhere. Finally, seven years after graduating and now living in Oregon, I decided to return to school, get a master's and ... and what? The one thing I felt qualified to do was teach writing. Even though the prospect of returning to the classroom put me off, teaching writing seemed a logical extension of what I did best. Also, I was eager to transcend the stingy limits of SSDI and SSI checks. So I completed a two-year course of study, sent out job applications, and secured a part-time teaching position at Portland Community College.
|What do you do when no one comes to your U-Pick and produce starts to rot on the vine? You start picking.|
Three years later, now married and teaching full-time, I was living in a newly-purchased fixer-upper in Portland. It seemed the ugly city had changed, or maybe it was me. Then, as in a dream, the Ghost of Agriculture Past reared its not-so-ugly head and dumped a poor piece of California farmland-turned-development-property in my lap. It was not the San Joaquin Valley oasis by a long shot. My grandfather had purchased this parcel in 1912, but 25 percent ownership had eventually been divided among 40 nonfamily owners. Eager to liquidate an unwieldy situation, my brother and I and our cousins put the property up for sale.
While we waited for buyers to nibble, my wife Sam and I started cruising five-acre parcels. All we wanted was a quiet, wooded, secluded package of modest real estate a reasonable drive from Portland, but land is a living, breathing entity that has a way of reaching out and grabbing you. After three years of looking, we came under the spell of a turn-of-the-century farmhouse surrounded by huge walnut trees, Douglas fir and rolling pasture bordered by a peaceful creek. When the dust finally cleared, I had quit my teaching job, sold the fixer-upper and traded my percentage of the family property for a 27-acre farm.
Sam and I, questioning each other's sanity, then began the Great Farm Experiment. We had successfully molded garden plots from backyard soils, but the leap we were now making seemed more dream than reality. Could a paraplegic and his 110-pound wife make a living on a small farm, complete with pecking chickens, kicking horses, and stampeding cattle? (I had drawn the line at pigs.) At the age of 35, nearly three decades after learning that I did not belong on a farm, I was right back where I started--not belonging on a farm.
Right away I learned one of the first principles of farming: People are small; farms are big. I needed equalizers. I owned an all-terrain cycle already, but it was an old three-wheeler with no reverse. Exploring the property, I would unexpectedly run into dead ends--a sudden gorge drop-off, a deep creek, the corner of a barbed-wire pasture. Unable to back up, I practiced screaming.
Dad and Lindsey on the farm in 1987.
I needed a small tractor with hand controls to work the ground. I needed a weedwhacker, riding lawnmower, chainsaw, sprayrig, cultivator, plow, disc, tiller and more. I needed things I couldn't buy: mechanical aptitude, the eye of a weatherman, a knowledge of metals, welding ability and experience farming. In time I needed a larger tractor. Most of all, though, I needed money. Luckily, the property exchange had spared me the humiliation of groveling at the feet of a loan officer: "Well, yes, I am a mechanically-challenged paraplegic with no farm experience other than running from chickens, pigs, horses and steers, but look at the positive side. I have a tiny wife who's as crazy as I am ...
So we did what nonfarm people always do with a small acreage--we grew a huge garden and called it a U-Pick. We planted an acre of tomatoes, beans, snow peas, squash, cucumbers and peppers, then tacked up signs at intersections, placed ads in the paper and waited. And waited and waited.
We soon discovered we were too far off the beaten track. What do you do when no one comes to your U-Pick and produce starts to rot on the vine? You start picking. You get out there in your wheelchair with your wife ragging at you for having such a stupid idea in the first place and you pick until you can't pick anymore, then call your friends and their kids and beg them to come over and help. Then you pile the best-looking produce in the trunk of your car and drive it around to the kitchen doors of restaurants and pretend you know what you're doing. And so began our vegetable delivery business.
A Septic Adventure
Owning land can provide easy opportunities for therapeutic sulking. Whenever I felt overwhelmed with weeds, besieged by bugs, or depressed by my own general ineptitude, I would ride my ATC to a secluded corner of the land and listen to the birds and watch the grass grow. One day, when I had been gone for a couple of hours, my wife started to wonder if it was time yet to worry. She was sweeping off the deck when she thought she heard a small voice in the distance.
The voice, of course, was mine, but from where I sat, it seemed quite loud, thanks to all that screaming practice. While exploring down by the creek I had decided to test out some curious-looking lumpy ground next to a blackberry thicket. When I got to the middle of the lumpy ground, it began to give way, moisture rose, and down went my ATC with a sucking sound, down to the axles, and a strong, sickening odor rose from the muck. I inspected what now looked more like primordial slime than ground. A large prehistoric insect with hundreds of legs slithered by. I had discovered the terminus of the septic drainfield.
My options were: (1) Dismount and crawl out of the slime, but for a paraplegic this would be like swimming in sewage, and besides, once free, how would I get back to the house? (2) Scream for Sam, then ask her to bring down the small tractor and pull me out with a chain while I sat, dry and safe, atop the ATC seat.
When Sam arrived, I made my request with my most reasonable face, but remembered that the tractor was still in the field where I had run out of diesel earlier that day. To bring the tractor down would first require her to carry a five-gallon fuel container across an acre of cloddy ground, climb up on the tractor and fill the fuel tank, bleed the lines (which she had not had the pleasure of doing before) and drive down a steep, dangerous hill to the creek where I sat waiting like a fool.
It turned out there was a third option: hers. I dismounted the ATC, she lightly bounced across the muck and hopped on the seat, and I crawled around to the back wheels and pushed. When the ATC finally broke suction, Sam gunned it and tore out of the muck, flinging slime from fat, knobby tires. As for me, I might as well have taken that swim in the septic tank.
Of Fertilization and Birth
Despite my shortcomings, we managed to gain regular customers and a modest delivery route. We traded our Saab for a minivan and bought an old pickup. We hired high school kids even more inept than I to pick produce and hoe weeds, but I did all the tractor work and selling myself. Sam did a lot of picking and delivering. We eventually began to make a profit, but not until we got rid of the high school kids, hired professional farm workers and expanded. Before we knew it, several years had passed and we had acquired more than 25 regular delivery customers and a reputation built upon neatly packed boxes of vine-ripe tomatoes, fresh lettuce picked the day of delivery and small green beans that shoppers fought over in supermarkets. We added fresh basil, baby corn, radicchio and other specialty items.
Then one day my past reappeared. Maybe I wanted to prove I wasn't that wimp who didn't belong on a farm. I decided to change our small herd of crossbred cattle to a larger herd of purebred Simmentals, then rent adjacent land and raise breeding stock that would sell for a pretty penny. So I purchased a superior-looking bull. His name was Bud--2,400 pounds of solid muscle with a curly top and a sweet disposition.
Bud's first calf crop was a test run--only three calves, all beautiful and large. The next year we bequeathed the whole herd to him, then waited for his offspring. This would be the generation that would propel us into the purebred business for real. While we waited, we trucked Bud to the Cow Palace in San Francisco for a range bull sale. He took top honors in the Simmental breed, selling for more than any other bull.
We were off to a promising start, and country living was agreeing with us. The farm was teeming with life everywhere we looked--newborn calves, herons, coons, possums, skunks, deer, coyotes, ducks, geese, beaver. Countless species of birds made nests in outbuildings and trees, making every spring a symphony. Mama Kildeer returned each growing season to lay four speckled eggs between furrows. Only one thing was missing--a baby of our own.
We had tried just about every method of conception known to mankind short of in-vitro fertilization, but nothing had produced a full-term pregnancy. Now we were older and time was running out. We decided to travel to a Cleveland hospital that had perfected the latest sperm-gathering technique for paraplegics. It would be our last and best shot at having a baby. Oddly, or perhaps not, the technique the doctor was going to use was strikingly similar to what our vet used to gather sperm from Bud for the Cow Palace bull sale.
We tried this method, coupled with insemination, three times in five days while staying in Cleveland, and after each procedure, we left the hospital for a late breakfast. We thought it was comical, and hopefully symbolic, that the name of the restaurant was--no lie--Pufferbelly's. But a month later we found ourselves disappointed again.
And it was much the same at home. When spring rolled around, we looked forward to seeing Bud's calves hit the ground. We thought those innocent white furry faces would surely help us forget our misfortune, but number 80 popped out twin bullcalves, one brain-damaged and near death. We tube-fed him three times a day and after weeks of constant dedication he and his brother--Cheech and Chong--eventually romped happily in green pastures.
Then came disaster. Our most beloved cow--Beebee--had a stillborn calf and became paralyzed in the process. Soon after, the same thing happened to Heartface. I rode out on my ATC twice daily to dispense feed, water, steroid injections and advice on how to cope with paralysis, but in the end both had to be destroyed.
The problem was oversized calves, some weighing 125 pounds at birth. Bud was too much for our cows. Two more calves were born with damaged legs from being cramped in the uterus, a third developed a disabling infection, and there were other birth-related problems. I began to feel a kinship with my herd--it seemed fate had it in for both of us. I sulked until the calving season ended.
Then I began to face the truth. When I looked deep into my motives, I had to admit the Great Farm Experiment had evolved into a compensatory endeavor to "overcome" my disability. My ambition to succeed was another way of denying my disability, something I thought I had accepted long ago. The farm--and the herd--had become my experimental laboratory. I had been trying too hard to prove my paraplegia was not a limitation rather than running the farm like a business, with attention to the bottom line and deference to common sense and practicality. The blame for the calving problems lay with me.
The Next Generation?
Wisdom, they say, often follows a hard lesson, and limitations, once accepted, can lead to unexpected happiness. Sam and I decided the time had come to try adoption. Our first attempt at this also met with failure, but we persevered, and through God's grace we found our way to someone who believed my disability had nothing to do with fathering a child. Fatherhood, she knew, derives from love, not sperm.
And so, Lindsey Elaine Gilmer came into our lives August 9, 1986. We brought her home when she was one day old. Instantly our priorities rearranged themselves. Eventually, thinking mainly of her health and safety, we changed to organic farming. As a result, our business grew. More important, our hearts began to grow in a way that we could not have anticipated. We continued planting, harvesting and delivering like always, but now the farm was a place to grow something precious--a family. Everything centered around the new life that had been entrusted to us.
We began to learn another well-known lesson: Time really does fly. Soon Lindsey was in kindergarten and l returned to teaching--part-time--at a nearby community college. I decided to do less hands-on farming and more teaching and writing. I began to notice that my body did not recuperate as easily. A day on the tractor left me stiff and sore.
Lindsey spent her early childhood petting calves and eating tomatoes and baby corn straight from the field. Later she began to do what kids have always done on farms--work. But she most enjoys walking down by the creek, appreciating the alder grove, cedars, cottonwoods, birds and butterflies. Now she is 13 and looking forward to the day she can drive. Unlike some parents, I also look forward to that day; her mother has taken a job off the farm, and we could use another delivery driver.
This past summer I drove Lindsey around to the usual stops and she got her feet wet handling a hand truck and heavy boxes of romaine lettuce. At Pastaworks, Lindsey was instantly recognized wearing her mother's familiar blue apron. "Uh-oh," said Robert, one of the owners, "here comes the next generation."
But you never know. Maybe living and working on a farm will not appeal to Lindsey. After all, it's a big world out there, filled with possibilities. Maybe one day she will even vow that this work--this way of life--is the last thing she wants to do.
3.2. Farming on Wheels: A Passion for Peas
By Susan Restino
Farming on wheels isn't impossible. It just takes persistence and a passion for growing things. We'd been homesteading in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for 15 years when my husband Charley and I found out I had progressive multiple sclerosis.
At first I went on doing things as I always had, and Charley took over when I got too tired. But gradually it got harder for me to walk and work. One day I went out to the garden and got so overheated in the sun that I couldn't get back to the house. I realized I'd have to give up my old role on the farm, which included a fair amount of physical work--milking, cleaning stalls, feeding the animals, working in the gardens.
By that time, luckily, our kids were grown up and on their own. We decided to gradually let go of our goats and chickens and horses. I cut back on the amount of freezing and canning I was doing. Charley rebuilt the kitchen so it was easier to work in.
Then I got an electric scooter, and we joined Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Now our garden is bigger and better than ever, with exotic details like asparagus, strawberries, lemon balm, lettuce in winter. There are now flower beds around our house, nicely weeded in the summer and banked with straw in the winter. We're even thinking about getting animals again.
Susan checks the greenhouse plants from her scooter.
Charley and I moved to Nova Scotia from New England in the early 1970s. We bought some land in a little valley in the Cape Breton highlands, cleared 10 of our 75 acres, and built a house and barn with very little money. We raised and home-schooled our children as they grew up side by side with a world of nature and a barn full of livestock. I wrote several books and magazine articles about creative cookery with whole grains and homegrown foods. Charley became an environmental consultant, specializing in forestry. In the winter, we write. In the summer, we farm.
You might say farming has been a lifetime passion. For instance, I have this thing about peas. Planting peas is, to me, the quintessential springtime activity. The erection of pea fences declares an occupational territory: We who live here take farming seriously. It's a kind of commitment: that we will weed, water, hoe and pick these peas. It's poetry. Pea vines will wend their way up the fences, clinging with delicate tendrils. Flowers will bloom, pale as butterflies, and pea pods will fatten like green earrings. We will pick them early in the cool of the summer morning, shell them and use them as an essential ingredient in our household haute cuisine. We like peas enough to do all this, and more.
But by mid-June of last year, I was beginning to feel as if the season was escaping us. The garden was not planted. It was almost too late for putting in peas, even in a place as far north as Cape Breton. We weren't sure we were capable of all the hard work needed to get our garden under way. One morning I assembled the seeds and made a new garden plan. But I couldn't go out and fork manure. And I realized it was a lot to ask my husband to do it himself, along with all the other things he's taken over.
That's when I got a phone call from a young fellow in Halifax, wondering if we would like the help of a WWOOFer.
"Sure would," I said, and welcomed Mark, who came to stay with us and work with my husband for three very busy days. I spent most of those days making sure there were good meals waiting for them, while they plowed, limed, manured, rototilled, staked, raked, hilled and planted the garden--peas, beans, potatoes, carrots, squash, lettuce, chard, corn, kale and broccoli. Then they set up a 30-foot greenhouse where we put in tomatoes, basil, peppers and eggplant seedlings. We rolled into summer with a flourish.
WWOOF is a loosely knit organization of energetic, independent young people with an urge to travel. Each farm describes itself in a paragraph published in a booklet. Participants choose a place they think they'd like, give the farm a call, and either make arrangements or get turned down. There are WWOOF programs in countries all around the world, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Italy. You can find more info on the Net. WWOOF is just getting started in the United States. The cost, for both participants and hosts, is under $50.
The idea is that WWOOFers help out on farms in different places in their travels. This cuts down the cost of transient life. It also enables them to learn about farming from organic farms and farmers. WWOOFing appeals to a certain romantic spirit: One girl from British Columbia described herself as a Knight of the Organic Road. As volunteers, they live and work on WWOOF-host organic farms, receiving no wages except room and board and what they learn from the experience.
WWOOF was tailor-made for me. I may not be able to do everything, but I know what needs to be done. Charley arranged the garden rows wide enough so I can get in and out on my electric scooter. I prowl around, inspecting. I notice weeds taking over the lettuce, peas ready to be picked, mice nibbling the tops of the carrots. I pay attention to the watering of the squash, the flowering of the basil, the temperature of the greenhouse. I think about how to accomplish things--hoses to be moved, vents opened, the kitchen taken over by a freezing operation. I do a little picking as I go; a couple of cucumbers, chives for an omelet, flowers for the table.
The bonus is that I get to share what I know with people who want to learn. I enjoy being able to work in the garden with WWOOFers, showing them how to prune tomatoes, how to thin carrots, when to transplant lettuce in the greenhouse, where to find mint. I don't always insist that they always do things my way. The motto of 4-H in my childhood was "Learn by Doing," and that's often the best way.
When Jessica arrived at the beginning of August, the peas were ripe. She picked a bucketful, which my husband shelled, out on the porch, in a small, noisy contraption which runs off an electric drill. I taught her how to steam, chill and freeze them in the kitchen. The next day, Jess said she would rather shell peas by hand than listen to the racket of that machine. "Fine," I said, and handed her the bucket. By the time she finished shelling, her fingers were sore and she knew why we're lucky to have a pea sheller. When we did the next picking of peas, a second WWOOFer had arrived to join Jess. There were twice as many peas to be picked, and there were no more complaints about the noisy sheller. They went swimming, instead.
WWOOFers come to our little farm from all over the world, which is part of the fun of having them. We've had people from Australia, Germany and England, as well as Canada and the United States. Madoka, who joined Jessica this summer, was our first from Japan, but I'm sure not the last. We enjoy the cross-cultural experience as much as they do, and make an effort to share music, art and cooking as well as daily farmwork.
The best part of WWOOFers is their willingness. The ones we've had here enjoy good hard physical work. I help them learn to put that energy to good use, and make sure there's a meal waiting when they're through. Eating well is part of farming well. Since many WWOOFers are vegetarians, it helps to have a good supply of vegetables on hand.
I much prefer having a few WWOOFers for a long stay to having new helpers every few days. After a few months, they know how to dig a good deep hole in the ground or hoe a row without hurting their backs. They've learned the difference between weeds and vegetables, and they even know which weeds we consider edible. They automatically water new transplants. They know how to run the wood stove, what to do with compost, and our custom of making bread on a rainy day. They remind me about broccoli that's going by. They know how to tell if corn is ripe and when mice are getting into the strawberries. They know when to go for a swim. They're ready to start a farm of their own.
As for me, I'm ready to take some time off until next year, when I'll start another garden plan and hope for a WWOOFer or two to come and stay and help us eat all the food still in our freezer from the year before.
Susan Restino lives in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she writes books and stories about cooking and country living. WWOOF can be contacted by e-mail at Wwoofcan@uniserve.com; Web site: www.cityfarmer.org/wwoof.html
The John Deere
The OmegaTrac front-wheel-drive power chair is farm and ranch ready right out of the chute, according to the manufacturer. It has width-adjustable drive wheels, dual wheel option, and gearing "from grandma to gallup." Standard options include cast aluminum machined wheels and a category-2 tow-hitch pin, so you can pull a few bales of hay or a couple of chain saws and a post hole digger, a come-along and a water can. Seat width ranges from 14 to 36 inches, and optional driver-adjustable height suspension lets you get your knees under the table or feet over a stump. Its makers say it will climb over tree roots as big as your arm, and cattle guards present no problem. With its 30.5-inch turning radius, the Omegatrac can clear standard doors along a 3-foot wide hall. Without the duals, the turning radius goes down to 24.5 inches. Drive train is warranted five years, frame for life. Call 888/234-1433 for a free video or write TEFTEC, 6929 Old Spring Branch Road, Spring Branch, TX 78070.
3.3. Respite for Rural Family Caregivers: Overcoming the Challenges
The Technical Assistance Center for Lifespan Respite
Fact Sheet Number 35, October 2012