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What’s possible: Maine AgrAbility helps farmers with disabilities remain active and independent

Naomi King and Alexandra Tomaso in an apple orchard

King, far left, operates Pietree Orchard in Sweden, Maine, with the help of her assistant Alexandra Tomaso. Tomaso started working for King this past April at the suggestion of Maine AgrAbility.

Naomi King, a Unitarian Universalist minister and daughter of authors Tabitha and Stephen King, moved to Sweden in 2012 to be closer to her family after her rare muscular disorder started to advance. King, who uses a wheelchair, took the management job at the family-owned farm business.

By February 2013, the challenges of managing a successful, growing mid-size farm began to take a toll.

“I was at the point where I could not work at all here anymore,” King says.

Then King discovered a reference to the National AgrAbility Project online. When she learned there was a Maine program, King contacted Maine AgrAbility Project Coordinator Lani Carlson to determine if the program would apply to her.

Maine AgrAbility, a USDA grant-funded state program helps farmers with chronic health conditions and disabilities gain more control of their lives, continue to farm successfully and live independently. The Maine AgrAbility program is a nonprofit collaboration of University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England and Alpha One.

Since receiving USDA funding in 2010, Maine AgrAbility has assisted more than 160 Maine farmers who have disabilities by offering services that range from answering agricultural questions, to suggesting ways to adapt tools or work sites, to referring farmers to other local support agencies.

“I was tremendously discouraged and convinced I couldn’t do anything related to the farm anymore,” King says. “So to be able to come to work six days a week is invaluable to me. It gives me a lot of purpose.”

Read more about King’s experience with Maine AgrAbility.

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