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50-Cent Fixes

By Tom Gillis ATP, Alpha One & Maine AgrAbility

Whether farming is your livelihood or you’re a weekend gardener, the simple fixes listed below can help reduce the stress and wear your body endures while farming to make your work more productive and efficient.

 Standing at a work bench for an extended period fixing that broken mower engine?

Find a scrap piece of 4”x4” and use it as a footrest to periodically shift your weight from side-to-side to relieve pressure in your back and knees.

  Do you experience back or knee discomfort from bending over/down when planting seeds?

Use a scrap piece of PVC pipe at a length long enough to hold while in an upright, standing position.  Straddle your garden rows, push the pipe in to the desired planting depth and simply drop the seed down the pipe.

  Weeding young plants in plastic flats?

Don’t bend over to weed the plants; put the flats on a portable table that you can bring to your worksite.  This will bring the flats to a height that is comfortable for you to work from.

  Washing leafy greens by hand?

Instead of putting stress on your back by bending over and exposing your hands to cold water as you wash, put the greens in a mesh bag and with an erect posture lift the greens out of the water.  This will allow you to efficiently wash more greens, reduce the time your hands are exposed to cold water, limit back strain, and reduce the risk of the greens being damaged during the washing process.

 Having difficulty gripping a pair of pliers or other small hand tools?

Try a product called Sugru or Model Magic which is a light-weight moldable substance. When applied and cured it can be used to “build up” the handles of small hand tools to provide extra gripping area or comfort.  The material can also be used to make a pencil or utensil grips.

 One-handed use of a battery/ electric operated drill?

Use a magnetic drill bit which will make one-handed drill operation easier and more efficient.

 Need reminders about chore times and other tasks around the farm?

Program a list of chores into your cell phone, smart phone or iPad which can give you an auditory prompt (i.e. beep, ring, chime) as to when necessary tasks need to occur.

 Do you have low vision or a vision impairment and are trying to manage farm records on your computer?

Adjust the computer screen’s display to a high contrast theme; enlarge the size of the mouse arrow; or use the on-screen magnifier feature.  All these functions come standard on all Windows PCs and can be found under the ‘Ease of Access Center’ section:

→        Start Menu;
→       Control Panel;
→       Ease of Access Center; 
→       Choose the desired adaptation and its settings.

High- contrast computer screen display in a “Word” document

On-Screen Magnifier controlled with mouse

For more information about ideas that can make your farming experience more productive and less physically demanding, check out the National AgrAbility Program’s Tool Box Assistive Technology Database at


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Keep Farming Using Technology Solutions

Archived Webinar from 9/24/2013

In this webinar, participants will learn more about Maine’s AgrAbility program and about the farmers who are using these services. The presenter will discuss farmer’s disability related needs; look at technology solutions including off-the-shelf products, adaptive equipment, farm modification, and software products. The presentation will also include funding options.

Target audience: Farmers, occupational therapists, physical therapist, educators in Cooperative Extension, vocational rehabilitation counselors, Veterans, Assistive Technology Practitioners, others in the Maine agricultural community.



Assistive Technology and Farming with a Disability

Friday, April 19, 2013

This hands-on workshop provides participants with an overview of hundreds of assistive technology solutions that can be created in minutes using everyday tools and materials found around the farm or in rural communities. Participants will learn amazing uses for 42 different tools and materials for fabricating quick solutions in rural remote areas without the need for electricity.

Farming values the family working together to take care of the land, animals and farmstead. Farm families are frequently challenged with limited time and resources and are in need of an immediate fix to a challenging situation. When a farmer experiences a disability this sense of urgency is even more important. The assistive technology solutions and methods developing and providing these solutions benefit everyone in all life functions at home, school, work and play.

Dr. Therese Willkomm, PhD, ATP, is an amazing Assistive Technology magician who has invented over 600 different Assistive Technology solutions including 50 different iPad solutions for people with disabilities. Dr. Willkomm holds a PhD in rehabilitation science and technology and is the director of New Hampshire’s state wide Assistive Technology program.  She is also a clinical professor in the Department of occupational therapy at UNH and oversees the graduate certificate program in Assistive Technology. She also has over 25 years of experience assisting over 1,200 farmers with disabilities. Dr. Willkomm was the first project coordinator of Breaking New Ground in the Agricultural Engineering Department at Purdue University and has developed over 30 different resources on farming with a disability.

Maine AgrAbility is a non-profit collaboration of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, and Alpha One. Maine AgrAbility is part of a nationwide network of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs begun through the 1990 Farm Bill. The goal of the National AgrAbility Project is to inform, educate, and assist farmers, ranchers, farm workers, and their families with disabilities, so they can continue to have successful careers in agriculture.

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University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Contact Information

Maine AgrAbility
75 Clearwater Drive, Suite 104
Falmouth, Maine 04105
Phone: 207.944.1533 or 800.287.1471 (in Maine)E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System