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AgrAbility program helps ag workers with disabilities

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Gaia’s Farm and Gardens is a community-supported agriculture market farm, roadside stand and holistic healing center. As owner operator, Kathleen Miller has always valued sustainable gardening, but when faced with multiple physical limitations, she thought she might not be able to continue her dream.

Miller was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, spondylitis and osteoarthritis, resulting in chronic back and neck pain with severe limitation in her ability to bend, twist, and lift. Over the years the disease’s progression had weakened her muscles, especially in her back and neck to a point where her agricultural activities were severely impacted. When she approached the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, she identified her goals: to improve her overall mobility and accessibility; to maintain her farm and care for her livestock more easily; and to strengthen her farm management skills.

Thanks to some creative thinking and to a public/private partnership with the Colorado AgrAbility Project, Miller did not have to give up her dream of farming.

An analysis of Miller’s abilities and limitations by AgrAbility found that a utility vehicle designed for an agricultural setting would be the ticket for getting Miller back into control of her farm. AgrAbility Project Manager Candy Leathers described the equipment as an “equalizer” by leveling the playing field for Miller to access her property, perform general maintenance of her large gardens, and tend to her animals independently.

“My friends and family will love not having to bail me out anymore,” Miller said. “I can get my chores done without the assistance of someone else to move tools and supplies, haul hay bales, grain buckets, and produce. This is a huge improvement to my well-being and overall productivity.”

Miller also modified her gate system for animal care by attaching gate wheels to her gates. This simple tool makes the opening and closing of her pastures gate much easier.

Miller learned about Colorado AgrAbility through the DVR. It helps individuals with disabilities obtain and maintain employment. Vocational counselor Susan Burleigh requested that AgrAbility help determine what limitations and barriers Miller was encountering as she maintained her farm along with recommendations for adaptations, modifications, and solutions for ways Miller could complete her work.

This was a great fit for Miller as she wished to continue as a farmer in spite of the limitations of her disability. AgrAbility and DVR assisted her to return to her passion, continue to provide for her family, and be a vital part of her community.

Colorado AgrAbility will host seven free workshops across Colorado this winter. The workshop, “AgrAbility Farm/Ranch Adaptations & Financial Resources,” will take place from 9 a.m. to noon and includes lunch for those who pre-register at least one week prior to the workshop.

To pre-register or get more information about the Colorado AgrAbility Project, participants can call Bob Fetsch 970-491-5648, email him at robert.fetsch@colostate.edu or visit http://www.agrability.chhs.colostate.edu.

Workshop schedule

Steamboat Springs—Jan. 29, Historic Courthouse, Commissioners’ Hearing Room, 522 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs, with Todd Hagenbuch (970-879-0825).

Monte Vista—Feb. 3, Chamber of Commerce, 947 1st Ave., Monte Vista, with Marvin Reynolds (719-852-7381).

Trinidad—Wednesday, Feb. 5, Trinidad Junior College, Sullivan Student Center Multipurpose Room, 600 Prospect Ave., Trinidad, with Dean Oatman (719-846-6881).

Pueblo—Thursday Feb. 6, Pueblo Zoo, 3455 Nuckolls Avenue, Pueblo, with Carolyn Valdez (719-583-6574).

Holyoke—Tuesday, Feb. 11, Extension Office Events Center, 22505 Highway 385, Holyoke, with Dennis Kaan (970-345-2287).

Ft. Morgan—Feb. 12, Ft. Morgan Extension Office, 914 E. Railroad Avenue, Fort Morgan, with Bruce Bosley (970-768-6449) and Luann Boyer (970-542-3544).

Aurora—Feb. 13, Arapahoe County Fairgrounds & Event Center, Room 1, 25690 East Quincy Avenue, Aurora, CO 80016 with Sheila Gains (303-730-1920).

Date: 1/13/2014



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