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Cooperative Extension: Agriculture


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

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.

Image Description: Naomi King and Alexandra Tomaso in an apple orchard

Upcoming Hands-on Workshop: Assistive Technology and Farming with a Disability

Friday, April 19, 2013
9:00 AM to 3:30 PM; check-in starts at 8:30

Elk’s Club, 397 Civic Center Drive, Augusta, ME

Cost: $25.00

Register online or contact us at 207.944.1533 or maine.agrability@maine.edu.

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.

Photo Captures Maine AgrAbility Hearing Checkup

The Kennebec Journal posted online a photograph of a central Maine woman receiving a free hearing checkup at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show by a technician participating in the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine AgrAbility program, which assists farmers with chronic health issues and disabilities across the state.


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University of Maine Cooperative Extension


Contact Information

Cooperative Extension: Agriculture
5741 Libby Hall
Orono, Maine 04469-5741
Phone: 207.581.3188, 800.287.0274 (in Maine) or 800.287.8957 (TDD)E-mail: extension@maine.edu
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1110
A Member of the University of Maine System