Tennessee AgrAbility Continues to Help Farmers


image: A team approach helps the Tennessee AgrAbility Program provide services to farmers, farm family members, and farm workers who may face a physical challenge on their farms. Team members include, from left to right, Troy Dugger, director of the Tennessee AgrAbility Project, University of Tennessee Extension; Joetta T. White, Western Region Extension Specialist for AgrAbility; Jennifer Cunningham, vice president of customer services, STAR Center in Jackson, Tennessee; Dave Bratcher, president, STAR Center, Jackson, Tennessee; Eileen Legault, Eastern Region Extension Specialist for AgrAbility; Finis Stribling, III, Tennessee AgrAbility Project Director, Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension; and Kim Lilley, executive director, Tennessee Technology Access Program, with the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
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Credit: Image courtesy of UTIA.

For more than 26 years, the Tennessee AgrAbility Project has worked to improve the lives of farmers, farm family members, and farm workers who may face a physical challenge on their farms. A new influx of funding from USDA and a new nonprofit partner organization will ensure the program’s continued impact and success through 2022 and beyond.

In November the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced an initial investment of more than $ 1.2 million, with possible follow-up investments totaling more than $ 5 million over four years, under the USDA’s AgrAbility program. Five agreability projects across the country are included in the funding, and the Tennessee AgrAbility Project is one of five grantees.

Tennessee AgrAbility is a collaboration between University of Tennessee Extension, Tennessee State University Extension, and NIFA. Tennessee AgrAbility helps farmers and farm workers with disabilities and their families by providing them with the support, resources and amenities that allow them to be independent and productive. The mission of the project is to improve the quality of life of farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities, so that they, their families and their communities continue to be successful in the agricultural sector. Success can be defined by gainful employment in production agriculture or a related profession; access to appropriate assistive technology necessary for work and activities of daily living; evidence-based information relating to the treatment and rehabilitation of disabling conditions; and targeted support for family caregivers of AgrAbility clients. Since 1994, Tennessee AgrAbility has helped more than 1,200 farmers in Tennessee.

In addition to this new funding from NIFA, Tennessee AgrAbility is also partnering with a new nonprofit partner, the STAR Center in Jackson, Tennessee. From its humble beginnings in a borrowed space in the basement of West Jackson Elementary School, the STAR Center has reached tens of thousands of families since its founding in 1998. The STAR Center was also recently awarded the services contract. State of Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation Center and has evolved from a regional provider to a statewide assisted technology resource provider effective October 1, 2021. As part of this responsibility, the Star Center now provides assistive technology, employment, and teacher training for people with disabilities in Tennessee and now also covers 95 counties as Extension.

Troy Dugger, Tennessee AgrAbility Project Manager at UT Extension, said, “Tennessee AgrAbility will continue to reach farmers with disabilities statewide with our great team of partners and with the valuable new resources provided by the STAR Center. These include new occupational therapists, rehabilitation engineers and certified assistive technology professionals.

“Our person-centered approach is one of the things that makes the STAR Center different. It is a recognition that we are all created unique and that we should be treated as such, ”said Jennifer Cunningham, vice president of customer services at Star Center.

Joetta T. White, Extension Area Specialist for AgrAbility in West Tennessee, adds, “We see so much diversity in farmers that we help with their disability. AgrAbility can help farmers, farm family members, youth and farm workers. The possibilities are endless to help farmers overcome their physical challenges, and we are happy to help them. “

AgrAbility services are intended to help all farmers with disabilities and needs. There is no limit to the size of the farm a producer owns to be considered for assistance in AgrAbility. Impairments include arthritis, spinal cord injury, paralysis, back problems, amputations, brain damage, visual and hearing impairments, and other problems.

Another part of AgrAbility helps farmers who are military veterans, and who also want to farm, gain the information and knowledge they need to do so. Eileen Legault, an agricultural extension specialist in eastern Tennessee, worked with this group to formally form the Tennessee chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) in partnership with their national organization. “I feel like Extension is making a difference across Tennessee and I believe in AgrAbility’s mission. We appreciate the leadership of Kim Lilley, Executive Director of the Tennessee Technology Access Program, who is helping to integrate assistive technology services statewide, and we look forward to helping more seasoned farmers and d ‘disabled farmers with our new partner, the Star Center,’ said Legault.

AgrAbility also helps beginning farmers through the Tennessee New Farmer Academy at Tennessee State University. Finis Stribling, who started the academy, is also the director of the Tennessee AgrAbility Project for TSU Extension. He stresses the importance of using AgrAbility, if necessary, and all available assistive technology services so that farmers can continue to do what they love. “Plus, the Tennessee New Farmer Academy is an opportunity to introduce beginning farmers to a bit of all types of Tennessee farming with hands-on experiences.”

Three Tennessee New Farmer Academies across the state are now accepting new students for March 2022 classes: tnstate.edu/extension/NFA.aspx

To learn more about the National AgrAbility project, visit www.agrability.org and to learn more about the visit of the Tennessee AgrAbility Project agrability.tennessee.edu.

Through its mission of research, education, and land grant service, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) touches lives and delivers reality. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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