Maine AgrAbility

  • Credit: AgrAbility
    Credit: AgrAbility
  • Credit: AgrAbility
    Credit: AgrAbility
  • Credit: Edwin Remsberg
    Credit: Edwin Remsberg

What work did the Maine AgrAbility Project do?

The Maine AgrAbility Project addresses health, safety, and the prevention of injuries across the state of Maine on the farm, on the water, and in the forest by doing the following:

  • Assisting owners, operators, managers, employees, and family members of farm, fishing, or forestry businesses

  • Educating agricultural workers whose lifestyle and business have been impacted by a disability

  • Providing training and education to health care providers, agricultural professionals, emergency response agencies, and other community groups about agricultural workers with disabilities

Anyone who has a condition that prevents them from working in agriculture, fishing, or forestry in the way that they are used to, or in the way they need to in order to be successful, qualifies for services, which are all provided free of charge. Each client has access to a unique combination of services that could include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Answer a few questions or provide resources over the phone or via email

  • On-site farm assessment

  • Suggestions for adapting your worksite, tools, methods, and/or equipment

  • Connections to possible funding sources for training or purchases

  • Small business development/alternative enterprise education

  • Referral to local services/resources

Depending on the situation and health conditions, clients could have a short, mid, or a long-term relationship with Maine AgrAbility. The funding needed for assistance may take several months or years to secure depending on the source.

Disability service providers and clients learn about the Maine AgrAbility Program through word of mouth, the Maine AgrAbility website, networking events and conferences, social media, tip sheets, and press. Videos and radio spots are another means to promote the service.

Maine AgrAbility is a non-profit partnership between the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and AlphaOne that started in 2010 after the USDA awarded the Cooperative Extension the first of 3, 4-year grants to serve as a State/Regional AgrAbility Project (SRAP).

The budget for Maine AgrAbility is $180,000 a year, and is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The organization employs one full-time Project Coordinator from the Cooperative Extension, a 0.2 FTE temp employee who does veteran outreach, and a 0.1 FTE 4H professional. In addition, from AlphaOne, there is 1 occupational therapist (OT), 1 OT assistant, 1 ADA architect, and one youth peer mentor who work with clients on an as-needed basis. There are 3 other independent contractors who work as-needed who are OTs or C-OTs, educators, and/or assistant technology professionals (ATP). 

A team of 11 volunteers make up the advisory board and provides leadership for Maine AgrAbility. The board meets quarterly and has representation from the following stakeholder groups: farmers with disabilities and former clients, the Department of Labor, the farming equipment industry, the Maine Bureau of Veteran Services, and Maine CITE.

 

How well did the AgrAbility Program do the work?

In addition to the National AgrAbility Project, USDA only has funding for 20 SRAPs across the country. States must apply for the highly-competitive, four-year grants. Due to Maine AgrAbility’s continued success, the USDA has awarded the UMaine Cooperative Extension the grant to serve as a SRAP for three grant cycles in a row. In addition, Maine was also selected by the National AgrAbility Project to host the National Training Workshop in 2017. 

Maine AgrAbility has provided direct and technical assistance to more than 740 Maine farmers over the past 9 years. The breakdown is below:

  • First grant cycle (2010-2014) - Maine AgrAbility provided direct assistance to 53 new clients and provided technical assistance to more than 230 people.

  • Second grant cycle (2014-2018) - Maine AgrAbility provided direct assistance to 37 new clients and provided technical assistance to more than 400 people.

  • Third grant cycle (2018-2022) - (at the time of printing) Maine AgrAbility had 21 active clients.

The project has increased service capacity to home gardeners (including UMaine Master Gardener Volunteers) and farmers through educational programs offered to homemakers, garden clubs, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Farm Service Agency (NRCS/FSA) personnel, Extension staff members, and senior college participants.

Maine AgrAbility has a rigorous evaluation program:

  • Measurement of needs and impacts through the regular use of surveys and interviews.

  • Progress towards program goals is measured, documented, and reported annually to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Maine Planning and Reporting System.

  • Program evaluation is done through participation in quality of life efforts out of Colorado State University (CSU) as well as efforts done with the University of Maine.

  •  Extension staff are certified to perform research that involves human subjects. The IRB is reviewed each year.

 

Is anyone better off?

The Maine AgrAbility Program is positively impacting Goal III of the Maine Food Strategy Framework in the following ways:

  • Benefits to clients:

    • Increased self-worth and dignity

    • Gainful employment in production agriculture or a related occupation

    • Access to appropriate assistive technology needed for work and daily living activities

    • Improved quality of life

    • Prevention of secondary injuries

    • Development of a good safety attitude

    • Targeted support for family caregivers

  • Additional benefits:

    •  Network building at conferences, professional events, community gatherings, and more.

    • Service providers in the disability world have a great awareness of what it means to be a farmer with a disability. (i.e. the Department of Labor and medical professionals). 

Maine AgrAbility Success Stories

One participant shared this success story: "How much has this program increased my income? The new part of my business has added probably 30% to my bottom line. This new part can give me additional income even if crops fail. I just want to keep working. I don't want to be on disability; I'm not ready for that. They are giving me tools to be successful."

The Maine AgrAbility Project was contacted by the business manager of an apple orchard who has a rapid degenerative muscular disease. Based on the Project’s work with her, changes were made to the orchard such as ramps, renovated restrooms, doors, automatic door openers, some road and path grading, as well long-term planning to planting beds to allow for wheelchair access. As a result, the business manager was able to move around the orchard, checking on crops, visiting with field and farm stand crews, and enjoying the outdoors. Based on another recommendation, she hired a personal assistant, allowing her to participate in community events and activities, lead educational tours, and remain an active part of the local business and farming communities.

 

Contact Info

Name: Leilani Carlson

Email: leilani.carlson@maine.edu

Phone: 207.944.1533

Web: https://extension.umaine.edu/agrability/