Agriculture is a family business, and come rain or shine, good health or bad, there is always work to be done. AgrAbility is a nationwide program that provides information, services and education to agricultural families with one or more people who are affected by physical limitations or disabilities. Colorado’s AgrAbility project, sponsored by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and Easter Seals, makes it possible for these families to continue working in the demanding field of agriculture.
The Campbell family, for example, has remained on their land with help from AgrAbility. Their ranch has been in the family for 113 years. Chad Campbell, now 34, grew up on the 750-acre ranch in Hotchkiss helping his family raise cattle. But four years ago, Campbell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the way of life that he had always known became much more difficult.
MS is a chronic and sometimes progressive disease that attacks the central nervous system. The disease damages tissues in the brain and spinal cord and disturbs nerve function. MS can cause problems ranging from mild numbness and difficulty walking to paralysis and blindness.
In Campbell’s case, MS mainly affects his stamina. He particularly has trouble working on the ranch in the heat of the summer.
"Ranching became challenging after I was diagnosed, especially dealing with the heat and fatigue," Campbell said.
Soon after his diagnosis, Campbell contacted AgrAbility and began working with them on ways to beat the heat and fatigue.
AgrAbility worked with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation within the Colorado Department of Human Services to provided Campbell with a portable air conditioner, tinting on the glass of his tractor cab and better suspension for his tractor seat.
"All of these things helped out a lot, anything to reduce the fatigue and heat," Campbell said.
While these additions helped, Campbell said the support AgrAbility provided was the biggest benefit. "It’s helped in a mental way, just knowing there are people out there who want to help."
Campbell now works primarily in the store that sells the all-natural beef and beef products produced by his family and five other local ranches that form the Colorado Homestead Ranchers co-op.
"It’s been a real blessing to be able to work in the job that I’m in now," he said. His father and brother run the ranch, but Campbell said he helps out whenever he can. "I’m pretty involved with the ranching still."
The Lombardy family also benefits from AgrAbility. When Don Lombardy’s parents retired, he took over the day-to-day operations of the 600-acre ranch in White Water that he grew up on. Last year, after his father’s death, Lombardy’s mother had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. In addition to his obligations to the ranch, Lombardy, 56, also became his mother’s primary caregiver.
"It was like trying to do an impossible task," he said. "It was all I could do to just keep things together."
Lombardy found it difficult to care for his mother and the cattle, goats and sheep on his ranch. "I let a lot of the farm just go for several months. My mother was my number one priority," he said.
Lombardy looked for ways to help make his mother more independent, and St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction put him in touch with AgrAbility.
AgrAbility worked with Lombardy to make his house more wheelchair accessible, and Easter Seals provided his mother with a scooter for outside mobility. AgrAbility also noticed that Lombardy had a back injury from years of heavy lifting. With help from the Easter Seals Colorado AgrAbility Assistive Technology fund, he purchased a replacement tractor seat.
Lombardy said that he could not express in words all that AgrAbility has done for him and his mother. "They’ve made quite a few trips over here in the last year," he said.
Each winter, the Colorado AgrAbility Project provides free educational workshops throughout Colorado for farm and ranch families with disabilities and for professionals who work with them. For more information about AgrAbility workshops, contact Bob Fetsch at Colorado State Cooperative Extension at email@example.com or at (970) 491-5648.
Call or e-mail Colorado State Cooperative Extension at least one week before the workshop to register and to ensure that space is available. Registration is due one week prior to each workshop. A free box lunch will be provided between sessions to those who are pre-registered.
This year’s workshops for ranch and farm families with disabilities are scheduled in various communities from 9 a.m. to noon, and will be on "AgrAbility and Managing Arthritis." This year’s workshops for professionals who work with farm and ranch families with disabilities are scheduled in various communities from 1-4 p.m., and will be on "AgrAbility and Utilizing Resources for Ranchers and Farmers with Disabilities."
Colorado AgrAbility Workshops are scheduled in Colorado communities as follows.
– Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005, LaPlata County Extension, 2500 N. Main St., Durango
– Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, Cortez Public Library, 202 N. Park St., Cortez
– Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006, Trinidad State Junior College, 600 Prospect St., Trinidad
– Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, San Luis Valley Information Center, 947 First Ave., Monte Vista
– Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006, Colorado Welcome Center, 3745 E. Prospect Road, Fort Collins
– Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006, Adams County Community Building, 2550 Strasburg Mile Road, Strasburg
– Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, Moffat County Extension, 539 Barclay St., Craig
– Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006, Delta/Montrose Vocational Technical Center, 1765 U.S. Highway 50, Delta
(For ranch and farm families only – no workshop for professionals is scheduled in this location)