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Vermont AgrAbility Project Helps Westfield Farmer Keep Farming

November 7, 2014

Geoff Whitchurch

(802) 888-4972, ext. 403, or (866) 260-5603

The large tires on the power chair easily navigated the rough terrain around the farmhouse as Robert Smith skillfully piloted it through several doors through the milk house into the feeding pens. He picked a pitch fork off the wall, plucked a fork-full of hay from a pile in the middle of the barn and drove to a pen of goats, who received their first feeding from the smiling farmer in a new wheelchair.

Smith, 49, operates a goat dairy farm with his parents, Linda and Richard Smith, in Westfield. Although he has managed almost every aspect of the operation, his difficulty walking due to his cerebral palsy has made it challenging for him to get from his home to his barn to tend to his goats.

Thanks to the Vermont AgrAbility Project, he recently received the assistive equipment he needs to maneuver around his farm more easily.

Robert Smith tries his new power chair

Robert Smith tries out his new power chair for the first time on his goat dairy farm in Westfield, VT.

Geoff Whitchurch, an outreach specialist with University of Vermont Extension’s Vermont AgrAbility Project, was able to obtain a motorized wheelchair at no cost through GetATStuff (Get Accessible Technology Stuff), an online database ( of used and new assistive devices that people donate or sell to help others in need.

The resource is just one of many that Vermont AgrAbility accesses to help farmers and agricultural workers who have been seriously injured or have chronic health conditions. These include, but are not limited to, arthritis, spinal cord or back injury, amputation, brain injury, paralysis, visual or hearing problems, respiratory ailments and muscular impairments such as cerebral palsy.

“In addition to locating assistive equipment to help farmers around the farm and home, we help find funding sources through VocRehab Vermont and the Vermont Center for Independent Living to help with farm modifications to accommodate physical and mental challenges,” Whitchurch says. “This most recent success story offers insight into how Vermont organizations work together to bring affordable re-used equipment to those in need.”


Robert Smith feeds his goats for the first time from his donated power chair on his goat dairy farm in Westfield, VT.

The power wheelchair that Whitchurch found came from Charlene Flinn of Barre whose husband, Sheldon, had received the wheelchair from a woman whose husband no longer needed it. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to use the chair, so she posted it on the GetATStuff web site for free to anyone who could use it. When Whitchurch contacted Flinn, who comes from a farming family, she was excited to be able to donate the chair to a Vermont farmer.

“The joy and excitement of receiving a power wheelchair was evident in Robert’s eyes,” says Whitchurch, who recently delivered the chair to the long-time goat farmer. “The pain and frustration that was evident before when Robert walked into and out of his house was replaced with relaxed confidence as I watched him smoothly transition from his house to his tractor and barn in his new power wheelchair.”


Richard and Linda Smith stand proud with their son Robert and his power chair. The chair has made getting around the farm and doing chores much easier for Robert.

For more information on the Vermont AgrAbility Project or any of the associated services, contact Geoff Whitchurch, Vermont AgrAbility Project education and outreach coordinator, at (802) 888-4972, ext. 403, or (866) 260-5603 (toll-free in Vermont) or by e-mail at


Vermont AgrAbility Project Farmer’s Field Day

September 10, 2014

The Vermont AgrAbility Project hosted its first ever Field Day event on August 20th. Coordinated by University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL), the Field Day was held at Young’s Milky Way Farm in Springfield, VT. Many of you who have attended the AgrAbility National Training Workshops probably remember Kenny and Kelli Young, the operators of the Farm. The intention of the Field Day was to create a community and connections for those farmers who could benefit from AgrAbility services. The event also served to broaden awareness of AgrAbility services through attendance and the intensive publicity surrounding the Field Day.

The highlight of the day was watching Kenny, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a snowmobile accident eight years ago, transfer from his wheelchair to a tractor using the self-modified lift from a decommissioned line truck. Kenny’s and Kelli’s ingenuity is apparent around the farm and around their house.  Home modifications include a stovetop, microwave, and sink that are easy for Kenny to use from a wheelchair.  The kitchen cabinets can lower electronically so Kenny can reach dishes and glasses, and by raising the cabinets when he’s done, they don’t lose counter space below.


Ask Kenny what he does for exercise and for fun in a state that is known for skiing to shake the long winter blues and for biking to enjoy the beautiful countryside; he’ll say, “well I ski and bike”. Not only does he ski, he teaches others with paralysis how they too can ski.

UVM Extension and VCIL staff were thrilled to have seventy-five people in attendance. Locals in attendance spoke of coffee house chatter regarding the Field Day, so event coordinators know that radio spots, television programs (UVM Extension’s, Across the Fence), newspaper articles, poster advertisements, and social media reached many more than just those in attendance.


The Field Day provided a wealth of information from vendors and other related organizations. In attendance with fully staffed information booths were: Vermont Center for Independent Living, University of Vermont Extension, Farmer Veteran Coalition, GetATStuff, Vermont Farm Bureau, VocRehab, Priority Medical, Farm First, Action TrackChair, and the Amputee Coalition of America represented by Ms. Abilities America, Dianna Allen with a wonderfully positive and motivational presentation.

Vermont AgrAbility Project staff look forward to hosting another Field Day in 2015 in a different part of the state.

For more information on the Vermont AgrAbility Project please contact:

Geoff Whitchurch
AgrAbility Outreach Coordinator
University of Vermont Extension
29 Sunset Dr., Suite 2
Morrisville, VT 05661
802.888.4972 ext. 403


Vermont AgrAbility Helps Disabled and Suffering Vermont Farmers

March 4, 2014

We have all been injured in one way or another at work or at play. Sustaining an injury usually affects our ability to be as productive as our uninjured selves. Many of us will heal fairly quickly and get back to business as usual. What happens to those who do not recover from their injury? What happens to a farm or other agricultural enterprise when a farmer or farm hand is unable to work due to an injury or a chronic health condition?

The University of Vermont Extension has a couple programs in place that address this and related issues. The Rebates for Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) program helps prevent injury by providing a 70% rebate (up to $865) for the installation of a ROPS on farm equipment. The Vermont AgrAbility Project provides resources for farm and equipment modifications to farmers with a disability or chronic health condition.

Agriculture consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. Each year agricultural workers in Vermont sustain disabling injuries in work-related accidents, non-farm injuries, illness and other chronic health conditions. The effects of a farm going out of business are felt from the family level to the state level. Farming has about a $4 billion impact on Vermont’s economy ( When farms go out of business or do not run efficiently, families are devastated and Vermont suffers.


Preventing Injury

The first step toward keeping a productive farm in business is ensuring safety. When 7 out of 10 farms are out of business within a year of a tractor rollover, it makes sense to protect yourself, your family, and your business. Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) are 99% effective, when used with a seatbelt, in preventing rollover deaths and serious injuries. If your tractor does not have ROPS installed, do it now! You can save 70% (up to $865) on costs to retrofit your tractor with ROPS. Just call, 1-877-767-7748 with the year, make, and model of your tractor and they will help you find the right ROPS for your tractor. This rebate offer ends soon.

Accommodating an Injury

So, what happens when a farmer or other agricultural worker must live with an injury indefinitely? Vermont AgrAbility is a free, confidential service provided by University of Vermont Extension, promoting success in Vermont agriculture for people with health conditions and their families.

jd hand clutch-3Vermont AgrAbility helps farmers and agricultural workers with chronic health conditions gain more control over their lives, continue to farm successfully, and live independently. They offer education, assistance, referrals for financial assistance, and facilitate farm modifications to accommodate your unique abilities.


Vermont Farmers and agricultural workers eligible for Vermont AgrAbility services may have any type of acquired or traumatic disability – physical, cognitive or sensory.

AgrAbility addresses many conditions, including, but not limited to:

  • Arthritis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Paralysis
  • Back impairment
  • Amputation
  • Brain injury
  • Visual / hearing
  • Respiratory
  • Muscular

No Cost Services

Information and referral

  • Information about farming with a disability
  • Referrals for financial assistance

On-Site and Technical Assistance

  • Restructure work tasks / operations
  • Modify farm equipment and tools
  • Acquire assistive technologies
  • Explore alternative agriculture enterprises

Secondary Injury Prevention

  • How to prevent further injuries or disabling conditions

Peer Support

  • Connect with others who have accommodated their disability

Background and Resources

The Vermont AgrAbility Project operates under a grant from USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service in Washington, D.C. We have a vast network of resources to address the individual needs of each farmer. Currently, there are 21 USDA-funded State AgrAbility projects, plus several affiliates serving other states using other funding sources.

Install your ROPS so you do not become an AgrAbility client. If you do sustain an injury or would like to accommodate to an existing injury or disability take advantage of your Vermont AgrAbility Project. Vermont needs farmers and we may be able to help you continue to farm comfortably and productively.

For more information contact:

Geoff Whitchurch

(802)888-4972 ext. 403

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Specially Adapted Housing Grants for Wounded Warriors and Disabled Veterans

February 20, 2014

Are you a Veteran with a severe service-connected disability that affects your mobility?  Do you know someone who is?  If you answered “Yes” to either question, then you or someone you know may be eligible for the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant program that is administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The SAH program helps certain severely-disabled Veterans and Servicemembers purchase or construct an adapted home, or modify an existing home, to create a barrier-free-living environment.  VA offers two grant programs:  the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant and the Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) grant.

The SAH grant can be used to purchase or modify a home so that it provides a barrier-free living environment that affords Veterans a higher level of independent living. Veterans and Service members with certain service-connected disabilities may be entitled to a grant up to the current maximum of $67,555.

The SHA grant can be used to increase the mobility of eligible Veterans and Service members throughout their home. Veterans and Service members with specific service-connected disabilities may be entitled to this type of grant, up to the current maximum of $13,511.

In addition to these two grant types, a temporary residential grant may be available to SAH/SHA eligible Veterans and Service members who are or will be temporarily residing in a home owned by a family member. The maximum amount available to adapt a family member’s home for the SAH grant is $29,657 and for the SHA grant it is $5,295. All grant amounts are indexed annually based on cost of construction, and the grant amounts will never decrease.

VA has staff located nationwide to assist individuals in applying for and receiving these grants.  You can find more detailed information about qualifying disabilities here:, and you can find contact information for an SAH Agent in your area here:

Each Veteran’s housing/living needs are as unique as their physical disabilities.  The SAH program provides hands-on, personalized, customized service to severely-disabled Veterans seeking home adaptations.

If you have any questions, please email

Vermont AgrAbility Program Updates

January 16, 2014

Hello everyone,

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and pass along a few program updates and recent changes to the Vermont AgrAbility Program.

I am Geoff Whitchurch. The UVM Extension Vermont AgrAbility Program hired me in early December as the Education and Outreach Coordinator.

About Vermont AgrAbility:

The Vermont AgrAbility Project is a sub-unit of a larger National program designed to help farmers and agricultural workers with chronic health conditions gain more control over their lives, continue to farm successfully, and live independently. We offer education, assistance, facilitate farm modifications, and assist in finding funding sources.

A couple quick, select examples of past projects: We found funding for the fabrication and installation of a lower step on a tractor to help a farmer with arthritis get up on his tractors more easily. We have found funding for the fabrication of a hand clutch for a farmer with an amputation and a farmer with arthritis. We had retractable stairs designed and built with a handrail and counter-weight to accommodate a farmer with M.S.

We are currently working toward solutions with a farmer with A.L.S., another with mental challenges, and another with a possible sleep disorder, among others.

Our goal is to help farmers experiencing any physical or mental hardship find solutions to help them continue farming comfortably and productively. Our services are free. We make farm visits to determine type of need. The Vermont AgrAbility Project neither offers nor guarantees funding for these projects. But, we can help find funding, usually through such agencies as Vermont Center for Independent Living, and Vocational Rehab. We are a state-wide program so please help us find farmers and help farmers find us!

Vermont Farm Show:

We are gearing up for the 2014 Vermont Farm Show. The show will be at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction from January 28th to January 30th. Open 9 to 5pm on Tuesday / 9 to 7pm on Wednesday / and 9 to 4pm on Thursday. We are sharing a booth space with ROPS (Rebates for Rollbars), and we will have a VT Health Connect Navigator with us. Please stop by and say hi and get more information.

More about ROPS:

7 out of 10 farms are out of business within a year after a tractor rollover. So, it makes sense to protect yourself, your family, and your business. Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) are 99% effective in preventing rollover deaths and serious injuries. Outfitting your older model tractors with ROPS can greatly increase your chances for future success following a rollover accident. The ROPS program can fund 70% (up to $865) on costs toward retrofitting your tractor with a rollover protective structure. All it takes is a phone call or email with your tractor make and model and we will do the rest. In Lamoille County, Vermont, ROPS can fund 100% of the cost. Contact a ROPS agent: 1-877-767-7748 or on the web at

Please, Like Us, Follow Us, Tweet Us, and stay connected with Vermont AgrAbility on our social media outlets or my contact info found at the end of this post.

Please contact me if you have any ideas, questions, or if you are or know a farmer or other agricultural worker who may need our services. I am happy to make site visits!

Thank you!


Geoffrey Whitchurch
AgrAbility Outreach Coordinator
University of Vermont Extension
29 Sunset Drive, Suite 2
Morrisville, VT 05661
802.888.4972 ext. 403

Agriculture related jobs and internship opportunities

January 13, 2014
Cellar Hand Sebastopol, CA.
Cellar Hand in production winery needed.Local winery in Sebastopol is seeking entry level cellar worker. No winery experience necessary; training is provided.

Responsibilities include shipping/receiving bulk wine from tanker, sanitizing empty tanks, forklift work, loading and unloading trucks, pressure washing winery floors and tank exteriors, and keeping equipment sanitized. Must be able to routinely lift 50lbs.

This is a full time position; flexible work hours including some evening and weekend work may be required.
Compensation: $13/hr. at time of hire; pay increases based on proficiency.

Reply to the ad with a one page resume to be considered for this position. Check out the posting here.

Two Mountain Farm Andover, NH. Journeyperson Program

NOFA-NH’s Journeyperson Program provides production farmers in their first few years of independent farming with the kind of hands-on support, training, and community connection that only comes with experience. Journeyperson applicants are beginning farmers who have previous on-farm experience/apprenticeship and training, and are serious about pursuing a career in organic farming in NH.

This is an intensive mentorship model, and Journeyperson mentors are paid an annual stipend for their time and one-year commitment. Journeypersons are offered education and business planning stipends, and are enrolled in the program for two years.

Application deadline: January 15, 2014

For more information click here.

Colorado Farm To Table Salida, CO
Colorado Farm to Table is a non-profit farming organization located in central Colorado. Our mission is: “Volunteers grow, harvest and distribute fresh produce at no cost to food banks, soup kitchens and pantries, feeding families in need across Colorado.” This small farm operation, in business since 1996, (>20 acres) specializes in growing vegetables at high altitude for distribution to partners across Colorado. In a good irrigation water year such as 2011, we raised and distributed to the food insecure in Colorado more than 94 tons of fresh produce.
Farm Manager;
Carry out all duties related to the growing of sweet corn, cabbage, broccoli, three varieties of squash as well as any other produce crops to be grown in the future, Operate greenhouse and oversee the growing of cabbage and broccoli starts, Operate all equipment necessary to complete all field work, seed bed preparations, planting, irrigating, cultivating, and spraying, Oversee field crews and assist in all facets of harvesting and loading of produce during harvest, Service, repair, refurbish, and maintain all equipment used throughout the year, Weld and construct any equipment or tools needed according to design providedClick here to apply.

For more information about the position contact Tony Madone, Jr. at 719-207-2737 or email

Dazi Acres Pikeville, TN.
Dazi Acres is a 27-acre sustainable, renaissance farm in Eastern Tennessee. We raise pastured chicken, turkey, pork, and beef. Using the Poly-face Farm as our model. Our chicken is featured in one of Chattanooga’s finest restaurants as well as the best Italian restaurant in Crossville.We have one (possibly two) opening(s) for an internship beginning April 15 in which you will learn:
Pastured chicken and duck management, including care and feeding, moving on a daily basis, predator management and weekly slaughter, Baby chick management, Pastured turkey management, including care and feeding, and moving 2-3 times a week using electric netting, Pastured pork production, including care and feeding and 2-3 times a week moving using electric netting and training to electric wire, Pastured rabbit management, including care and feeding, moving on a daily basis, and slaughter, Management intensive grazing for cattle, layer chickens and sheep and use of electric wire, most likely at our home farm and a nearby rented farm, Handmade cold process soap making, You will learn both the “master batch” and individual loaf methods, Farmers’ Market marketing, including setup, rules and regulations, and direct marketing to customers and restaurants, CSA management, Building a pole barn, Equipment and infrastructure maintenance.

Apply today by submitting your letter of interest

For more information click  here.


United Veterans Beacon House Promise, SD.
The United Veterans Beacon House is seeking a House Manager for their Transitional Home

Native American Homeless Veterans located in Promise, South Dakota. The United Veterans Beacon House Home and Farm is located on 29 acres of the beautiful Moreau River Valley and will house 13 Veterans seeking a new life in a Transitional Home where every Veteran resident will participate in Trade and Life Skills Training.

If you have Organic Gardening or Farming experience that would be a benefit, but is not a requirement. A requirement is for everyone to learn, be grateful, live with dignity and want to help Veterans.

Listed below are some of the programs that will be in operation; 3 Acre irrigated Organic Garden, Greenhouse operation, Native American Crafts, Classic & Antique vehicle Restoration, Chicken & Pheasant Raising, Computer Skills Training, Antique Equipment Restoration, Heavy Equipment training, Cooking & Food Service, Woodworking/Carpentry, EMT Training & Certification, Small Dairy Skills.

If you’re interested in this position please contact Peter J. Forbes at or call Toll-Free 1-877-838-4483.

For more information click  here.

Blue Sky Organic Farms Litchfield Park, AZ.
Organic farm seeks full-time employee interested in learning the hands-on and business of modern agriculture.

Blue Sky Organic Farms is a family-run farm in Litchfield Park, Arizona, in operation since 1995. The 35-acre farm is certified organic, which means the fields and growing practices meet strict federal standards. We grow 100% of the produce we offer. A selection of our produce is available at Whole Foods Grocery Stores across the Valley, at the Scottsdale Farmers Market, and at our farm store. We recently started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program in which our neighbors support our farm in exchange for a weekly share of our harvest.

We hope to find a candidate willing to work 20 to 40 hours a week. Salary is negotiable. Tasks include hands-on assistance in the fields, tractor operation, irrigation work, and general helping out around the farm. You will learn what it takes to work on a farm but also what it take to run a farm, which includes seeding, equipment, and money management. When you’ve finished your time with us, you will leave with the full knowledge of how to make a farm work, and hopefully, you will be able to start a farm of your own. A business background is useful but not required. We also want people who are passionate about healthy living, buying local, and serving the community.

If Blue Sky Organic Farms is of interest to you, please contact Sara Bauer at 623-266-4031 or

For more information click here.

Carbon Monoxide and Fires

January 8, 2014


Freeze on winter fires

The United State Fire Administration (USFA) and NFPA remind you that home fires are more prevalent in winter than in any other season. People are at greater risk in the winter season when they may use unsafe heat sources or if they don’t follow fire safety rules in the kitchen or while using candles.

Facts and figures

Carbon monoxide

  • In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire CO incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of nine calls per hour.
  • A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
    Source: NFPA’s Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Incidents report.

Electrical safety

  • Roughly half of home electrical fires involve electrical distribution or lighting equipment.
  • Nearly half of home electrical fires involve equipment such as fans, washers, dryers, space heaters and air conditioners.
    Source:NFPA’s Electrical Firesreport. 
Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide incidents are more common during the winter months, and in residential properties. Carbon monoxide calls to fire departments are more common during the early evening hours.


Video: NFPA’s Ben Evarts explains why carbon monoxide is dangerous.

Electrical safety

Electricity is one of our basic needs. The best way to keep your home safe from electrical hazards is to take good care of appliances and to use all electrical equipment properly.


Heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fires during the winter months. In fact, half of all home heating fires occur in December, January, and February.


Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and related injuries.


The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve.


The winter holiday season should be a joyous time of year. However, certain types of fires and injuries associated with holiday decorating are much more common during this season.

See more NFPA resources on winter safety topics: