The group met to review the project scope, responsibilities, and overall efforts of the grant-based program. The goal of the project is to assist farmers and agricultural workers in overcoming a disability or long-term health condition so that they may continue to work and remain in production agriculture in the state of Pennsylvania. The grant for the project was awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
AgrAbility is a statewide partnership between Penn State Extension and UCP Central PA, a non-profit organization that works with individuals of all ages with all types of disabilities throughout Central Pennsylvania. AgrAbility has been providing information and direct services to farmers and family members affected by disabilities or a long-term health condition since 1995.
The Advisory Group consists of experts and specialist from state agencies, organizations, and non-profits throughout Pennsylvania. Examples include Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT), Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF), Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and PA Area Health Education Center. The group also consists of occupational and physical therapists, agriculturalists, and AgrAbility PA clients.
Project highlights presented and discussed included AgrAbility PA outreach at events, efforts in marketing, and use of social media; updates on current and past AgrAbility PA clients; and an overview of the year ahead as well as new initiatives. New initiatives include an increased effort to reach veterans and women who are currently working in or may be interested in a career in agriculture; continued targeted outreach to legislators throughout the state; and growth in database for communications and marketing.
AgrAbility PA also wrapped up its first ever Bridging Horizons Contest - a contest for high school students involved with FFA to gain awareness and understanding about AgrAbility. Awards will be distributed in June at the 88th FFA State Convention.
Randy Loss with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) shared that arthritis and back injuries are the top two types of disabilities for agricultural clients working with OVR. Additional types of disabilities include cardiovascular, diabetes, joint impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and stroke. Randy stated that 90% of the agricultural cases come from AgrAbility PA. The statewide rate of success for agricultural cases through OVR is 88.5%. He also discussed a potential new partnership between OVR and agricultural educators in schools to provide valuable services to high school and transition age students as they explore on-the-job experiences in agriculture.
AgrAbility PA continues to be a critical resource for farmers and agricultural workers in Pennsylvania with a disability or long-term health condition. Most commonly seen health challenges for AgrAbility PA clients include arthritis, back injuries, joint impairments, and mobility constraints. More than 60 percent are a direct result of an incident or the overall physical nature of work on the farm. Many AgrAbility PA clients work on dairy farms, as it is the largest agricultural industry in Pennsylvania, but more and more clients are seeking resources and support from other farming operations. Clients range in age from 18 to late 60s, with the average Pennsylvania farmer being 55 years old. Common equipment accommodations include using utility vehicles, making tractor modifications, and changing feeding practices. The OVR, PATF, PIAT, Ag Choice Farm Credit, and Farm Service Agency largely provide funding for these accommodations.
"This project has undoubtedly made a positive impact and has certainly improved the lives of farmers throughout Pennsylvania for more than 20 years," said Dr. Connie Baggett, AgrAbility PA Project Director and Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education at Penn State University.
The Advisory Group will continue to provide feedback and recommendations on the project throughout the year. The grant is operational for a four-year period. The current grants runs through September 2017.
For more information about AgrAbility PA, visit www.AgrAbilityPa.org or www.AgrAbilityPA.wordpress.com, email AgrAbility@psu.edu, or call 814-867-5288. Stay in touch with news, events, and information by following AgrAbility PA on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and on Twitter @AgrAbilityPA or #AgrAbilityPA.