Colorado State University, Easter Seals Program Keeps Farmers, Ranchers in Business After Injuries

Agriculture is a tough business, especially for people with physical disabilities. AgrAbility, a program sponsored by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and Easter Seals, aims to make it possible for people with physical challenges to stay in the demanding line of work.

AgrAbility helped Jerry Anderson start a new vocation as a greenhouse grower after severe carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists ended his career in analytical chemistry.

Always a backyard gardener – "I was the guy who brought zucchinis the size of canoes to neighbors," he said – Anderson decided to grow organic herbs and vegetables in greenhouses. But he had to make sure the hard work involved in successful greenhouse growing wouldn’t aggravate his wrist pain, so he turned to AgrAbility. Colorado State Cooperative Extension provides education and Easter Seals provides services to help farmers and ranchers with physical challenges continue their work.

AgrAbility staff members conducted an extensive, on-site evaluation of Anderson’s physical abilities and work site in Fort Lupton, helping him complete a business plan and making recommendations for ergonomically designed tools and workspaces. They also offered suggestions for structuring his workday to allow for a balance of heavy work and light work periods, which improve efficiency and reduce the risk for further injury to his wrists.  

"It gave me a different way of looking at things," Anderson said. "The recommendations help in the long run as far as productivity and health."

Anderson is one of more than 50 farmers and ranchers who have worked with AgrAbility this year. The program provides information, services and education to agricultural families with one or more people who are affected by physical limitations or disabilities. It offers a series of statewide workshops aimed at farmers, ranchers and their families as well as workshops for professionals who work with them.

"The goal is to assist farmers and ranchers with disabilities who want to stay in agriculture," said Bob Fetsch, Colorado State Cooperative Extension human development specialist and coordinator of the Colorado AgrAbility Project. "Agriculture is such an important part of their identity and lives. When they have a disability that’s life-threatening or vocation-threatening, it’s very tough for them."

Fetsch has a thick, three-ring binder filled with 500 ideas of adaptations for farm and ranch equipment based on a variety of physical needs. AgrAbility works with people who have everything from amputated limbs to multiple sclerosis to arthritis.

The program doesn’t have the funds to purchase the equipment, but it works closely with the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helped Anderson equip his three greenhouses with ergonomically correct conveyers, benches, raised beds, adjustable tables and other tools. The equipment helps Anderson avoid the repetitive motion tasks that caused pain, numbness and tingling in his wrists.

Anderson and his wife just wrapped up their first production year growing oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary and basil. Anderson hopes to expand the family enterprise into other herbs and plants.

"We’re small, but we’re continuing to grow," he said.

And he’s finding his new career satisfying. "It’s fun being my own boss," Anderson said. "It’s fun doing the work. It’s hard work, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a labor of love."     

For more information about AgrAbility or a workshop schedule, contact Colorado State Cooperative Extension’s Fetsch at or at (970) 491-5648.

AgrAbility Workshops

Call Colorado State Cooperative Extension at least 10 days before the workshop to register.  Free registration will include a box lunch between sessions. Registration for all workshops is due a week before each workshop, and only those who have pre-registered will receive a free box lunch.

Morning workshops from 9 a.m. to noon will be about "Back Injury Prevention and Accessing Social Security, Social Security Disability, Social Security Work Incentives, Medicare, and Medicaid for Farm/Ranch Families."  These workshops are for farmers and ranchers with disabilities and their family members.

Afternoon workshops from 1-4 p.m. will cover "Use of Social Security Work Incentives, Medicare, and Medicaid to Assist Farmers, Ranchers, and Their Families."  These workshops are for professionals who work with ranchers and farmers with disabilities.

This winter’s Colorado AgrAbility Workshops schedule:

– Southwest Colorado: Nov. 30 in Durango

– Southwest Colorado: Dec. 1 in Cortez

– Southeast Colorado: Jan. 25 in Monte Vista

– Southeast Colorado: Jan. 27 in Crowley

– Northeast Colorado: Feb. 3 in Loveland

– Northeast Colorado: Feb. 9 in Brighton

– Northwest Colorado: Feb. 23 in Craig

– Northwest Colorado: Feb. 24 in Delta (For ranchers and farmers only-no workshop for professionals)