Snow Crest Dairy has been in his family since 1951, and he and his wife Gail and son Scott currently milk an average of 100 cows and farm about 450 acres. David has also lived with debilitating hip, shoulder, and arthritis problems for the past 20 years. He was facing his 3rd hip replacement surgery in early 2002 when Gail contacted AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians to learn how they might help.
AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians is a partnership between Penn State Extension and Easter Seals Central Pennsylvania, and is funded through USDA. The project works with disabled farmers and farm family members to help them achieve greater independence in their farming operations. After completing an on-farm assessment, AgrAbility staff help eligible producers identify funding resources to make modifications and/or purchase equipment.
Walrath was able to qualify for assistance through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Office for Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). Wilkes Barre District VR Counselor Larry Baxter conducted an individualized review of Walrath's situation.
Says Baxter, "The first time I met David, I could tell that he did not consider himself disabled. He said 'I just have a lot of aches and pains, and I'm not looking for a handout.' The reality, however, was that David needed to make significant modifications to the business if he was to be able to play an active role in the farm operation."
After Walrath and Baxter carefully prioritized the various recommendations for modifications and equipment suggested by the AgrAbility staff, funds were secured through state and district resources. The results were almost immediate.
"The John Deere Gator came in October of 2002, and David noticed the difference in his pain levels and mobility right away," explains Walrath's wife Gail. "Then came the speed hitches, which allowed David to do field work without climbing on and off the tractors to hook-up or release wagons and equipment. We couldn't get him off the tractors after that!"
Other modifications included a Gehl skid steer loader with Featherlite hand controls. For nearly 20 years Walrath had been wrestling with an older machine that featured hard-to-turn hand controls; the new controls made all the difference in the strain on his wrists and hands that were quickly becoming crippled with arthritis.
"It's doubtful that I would be able to continue to work without the equipment and changes that have been made," says David. "I've yet to have that hip replacement that the doctor thought would be necessary over a year ago. I also have a lot more pain-free independence around the farm. I'm able to be responsible for the fieldwork and feeding, and my son is able to concentrate on the cows. It's a partnership we can both be proud of."