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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
E-mail: vtagrability@uvm.edu

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 (www.getatstuff.com) 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.”

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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.”

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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 vtagrability@uvm.edu.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Margaret permalink
    November 7, 2014 12:51 pm

    Thanks Geoff, what a great service and charming story. Margaret

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