Today, Jerry, his brother Paul, and nephew Myron continue to farm that same ground. Together, they milk more than 110 Holstein cows and raise around 65 heifers. Their goal is to reach 150 cows milking. In addition, they try grow all their own forages, including corn, hay, and alfalfa.
It wasn't long ago, however, that Mr. Deal was sidelined by arthritis in both knees. For years he had struggled with the pain and restrictiveness associated with severely injured knees, and anticipated having surgery done in 2003. Just prior to this time, Mr. Deal's future daughter-in-law told him about the AgrAbility Project in West Virginia, where she was spending a summer interning with USDA. Amanda Hern-Deal was certain that Pennsylvania had a similar program, but wasn't sure how to find it. So Mr. Deal went searching and was eventually connected to AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians' project assistant - Linda Fetzer.
"Mr. Deal was very interested in learning more about AgrAbility," explains Ms. Fetzer. "However, he wanted to wait until after both knees were operated on before becoming engaged in the program. When I contacted him following his second surgery, he was ready to begin our process to learn just how we might help him."
The AgrAbility assessment team of Ms. Fetzer and David Troutman soon traveled to the Deal farm to learn first-hand the difficulties facing Mr. Deal. Following a detailed evaluation of concerns, challenges, and options, they decided upon a short list of equipment that might be most helpful. The list included steps vs. ladders that were attached to the tractors to facilitate getting on and off this equipment; a utility vehicle for mobilization around the three farms that make up the Deal farmstead; and speed hitches that would be attached to the forage harvester and wagons and would prevent the need for the operator to get on and off the tractor repeatedly.
At this time, Ms. Fetzer introduced Mr. Deal to the Pennsylvania Office for Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). OVR is the agency that actually helped finance the suggested equipment changes to make it possible for the Deals to get the help that was needed.
"I've had an excellent experience," states Mr. Deal. "OVR and AgrAbility have worked closely together to make the process smooth and trouble-free. It's been clear that the AgrAbility staff is familiar with farming, the equipment, and the issues. I am truly grateful for everything that has been done to help me. The utility vehicle, especially, has made a huge difference in my ability to get around from place to place. I'm hoping it also makes a big difference in how long my knee replacements will last, as well. Both my doctor and I are very hopeful that it will."
AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians helps individuals who are coping with many different kinds of physical challenges, including arthritis, stroke, knee and back problems, amputations, vision and hearing disabilities, and many others. The project is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and is a partnership of Penn State Extension and Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation.