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AgrAbility Continues To Aid State Farmers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Thirty-seven Mississippians are still in their ag-related occupations through efforts of the Mississippi AgrAbility Project which prevented a disability from keeping them from their work.
AgrAbility, a partnership in Mississippi between the Mississippi State University Extension Service and Easter Seals Mississippi, offers farmers, ranchers and foresters with disabilities expertise on agriculture and overcoming the disability. This expertise ranges from assistive devices to counseling and business development. AgrAbility, available in Mississippi since 1997, was established nationally in 1991 and is active in 18 states.
Lamar Forsyth is a poultry farmer in Hernando who suffers from a degenerative vision disease that has blurred his sight and given him tunnel vision and night blindness. His Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services counselor helped him with home improvements and put him in contact with AgrAbility. AgrAbility determined what carpentry tools he needs to maintain his poultry production despite vision problems.
"I raise chickens and build pens, nests and roost poles," Forsyth said. "I'm not a carpenter by any means, but what I build serves my purposes."
Through MDRS, Forsyth is getting a special table for woodwork, a handsaw and slide rule designed to allow him to measure. He already had bump dots installed in his house on appliances such as the stove, washer and dryer to make it easier for him to do housework while his wife holds a job.
With AgrAbility assistance, he has applied for MDRS funding to establish his business more effectively. He is also getting advice from DeSoto County Extension Agent Art Smith on poultry marketing.
Emily Knight, Extension AgrAbility program assistant, said the program is a good resource as it brings together agricultural clients needing help with the people and agencies providing the help.
"Farmers are used to being independent and getting along on their own, yet there are many services available that we're trying to bring them," Knight said. "While AgrAbility doesn't have money to give clients, we can help find funding sources and assistance for their ag enterprises."
AgrAbility clients in Mississippi have an average age of 43, and while most are working-age, they have ranged from 5 to 85 years old. The Mississippi AgrAbility Project has served clients with arthritis, amputation, strokes, diabetes, cancer, cardiac disease and degenerative joint disease, among other disabilities.
Dana Foster, AgrAbility case manager with Easter Seals Mississippi, said every AgrAbility client is unique and each case is different.
"The process of disability adjustment includes things economic, physical, psychological, mental and spiritual," Foster said.
AgrAbility's mission is to provide the vocational counseling and assistance people need to begin or continue agricultural occupations.
"Some clients are able to continue in their profession with technological assistance that allows them to perform their usual tasks," Foster said. "Others restructure their roles to get the work accomplished, while some no longer work on farms.
"The Mississippi AgrAbility Project makes its services available to clients at any point in the adjustment process so they know all their alternatives and can make appropriate decisions."