About the FARM Program

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The Wisconsin farmers we serve come from all types of operations, including beef, dairy, hog, cash-crop, and specialty farms. What each farmer has in common is the presence of a disability or medical diagnosis that limits their ability to complete their farm work. These disabilities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Arthritis
  • Back injuries
  • Injuries caused by repetitive use
  • Joint replacement
  • Limb amputation or crush injuries
  • Mental or cognitive impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stroke

Our Rural Rehabilitation Specialists have farm backgrounds and understand the issues farmers face every day. This makes it possible for them to communicate with farmers and collaborate with them to identify limitations affecting farm tasks and discuss accommodations for disabilities.

Services received by farmers may include:

  • Over-the-phone consultation
  • An on-farm assessment by a Rural Rehabilitation Specialist
  • Development of plans for accommodation
  • Identification of suitable assistive technology
  • Identification of resources and possible funding options
  • Case management to assure all was successfully explicated

In the late 1980s, the Easterseals Wisconsin staff was hearing from its rural clients that vocational rehabilitation programs were not meeting the needs of farmers. To address that need, Easterseals Wisconsin created the FARM Program in 1989. FARM works with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to provide individualized, on-farm vocational rehabilitation services.

During the early years of the FARM Program, outreach amounted to dozens of cups of coffee shared at farm shows as trust was gained – one farmer at a time.

Early outreach also meant working with caseworkers at DVR to develop a perspective about farmers that included the idea that a fifty-year-old farmer with knee problems could continue to milk 80 cows throughout a Wisconsin winter. As each successful case proved that appropriate accommodations could keep farmers in their chosen vocation, referrals multiplied.

  • Easterseals Wisconsin partners with UW-Cooperative Extension to form AgrAbility of Wisconsin, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). AgrAbility supports case management for all farmers requesting service, outreach at farm shows, and Neighbor-to-Neighbor on-farm events. It also supports efforts to educate others about options to help farmers with disabilities stay in farming, including training programs for other AgrAbility staff, University of Wisconsin physical therapy and occupational classes. Subscribe to AgrAbility of Wisconsin’s newsletter.
  • Wisconsin’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) helps people with disabilities find or maintain employment. DVR is an important source of referrals to the FARM Program, as well as a recipient of referrals from AgrAbility. DVR determines the eligibility of farmers for state funding for assistive technology and other workplace adaptations. The FARM Program staff works with referred farmers to identify disability-related barriers to farm tasks, recommends assistive equipment or modifications, and develops a full report and collection of cost estimates for use by DVR. DVR makes final decisions about funding for equipment or modifications.
  • The FARM Program and AgrAbility of Wisconsin have recently secured a three year grant. This funding is available through the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged (SDA) Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program). The outreach grant will provide 100 current and new Wisconsin SDA farmers and veteran farmers with awareness of, increased access to, and participation in USDA programs and services during the three-year project period – beginning October 2019.
  • The National Farm Medicine Center partners with the FARM Program to exchange information about the medical side of a disability as it relates to the agricultural community. Farm Medicine Center staff offers guidance on outreach efforts and program services and participates in the FARM Program’s Advisory Council.
  • Rural Insurance Companies, part of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, provide the FARM Program with advice and assistance with outreach. They publish articles about the FARM Program and AgrAbility services in their promotional materials and support the program monetarily when able.
  • The FARM Program and AgrAbility of Wisconsin partner with DeLaval, providing a Farmer Assistance Program. As a dairy equipment dealer, DeLaval knows that tie-stall milking units can be cumbersome to navigate around the barn, and over time, repetitive movements from milking can lead to excessive wear on joints and back. They have offered solutions to make tie-stall milking more comfortable, efficient, and sustainable. More recently, they have begun offering a Promotion Agreement for AgrAbility clients.
  • From 2012-2018, Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation – the largest private contribution in the FARM Program’s history – which helped to underwrite the costs of serving 18 farmers with disabilities, hosted a Neighbor-to-Neighbor outreach event and further developed the CALF Project in Northwest Wisconsin.
  • The Easterseals Wisconsin FARM program was awarded a grant in 2015 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture for a three-year project, Securing Beginning Farmers Through Succession Planning. The project addressed the need of Wisconsin farmers without succession plans in place, estimated at 56% of farmers over the age of 55, to ensure the successful transition of farm operations to the next generation of beginning farmers. The FARM Program partnered with the Wisconsin Farm Center Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, to provide succession planning for farmers and farm families in which they were provided guidance, information, and assistance throughout the succession planning process. The program included on-farm site visits, individual and family discussions, matching with potential beginning farmers if a successor was not named, and assistance with retirement plans, tax, and inheritance issues.  The project was promoted through AgrAbility of Wisconsin, an Easterseals Wisconsin – UW-Extension partnership dedicated to helping farmers with a disability continue to farm.

Since its inception, the FARM Program has helped thousands of farmers with disabilities continue in agriculture, enjoying independence, and supporting themselves and their families. In employment rehabilitation, a 40% to 50% success rate is considered very strong. The success rate of farmers working with the Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program is higher than 97%.

Graph of State & Regional AgrAbility Projects

With its reputation for effectiveness, the FARM Program serves as a national model for similar programs across America. FARM Program Rural Rehabilitation Specialists have provided seminars and on-farm mentoring around the country for other programs working with – or seeking to work with – farmers with disabilities. Prestigious awards have honored the strong partnerships the FARM Program has formed with other agencies to provide outstanding service to farmers and other agricultural workers with disabilities.

Mutual of America’s Community Partnership Award 

This national award honors the Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program’s partnerships with Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Division of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the University of Wisconsin-Cooperative Extension. It recognizes the FARM Program as an organization that makes a difference, addresses social issues, and advances the mission and principles of each participating partner. The program also received a Governor’s Commendation for the receipt of this award.

Donor Forum of Wisconsin’s Good Grant Award 

The Good Grant Award honors the FARM Program and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for leadership, entrepreneurial spirit and creativity in working together to provide an innovative solution to a community need.

Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust National Innovations in Rural Health Award

In 2014, the FARM Program was one of four national finalists for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust National Innovations in Rural Health Award.

University of Wisconsin Extension’s Friend of Extension Award 

In 1999, Easterseals Wisconsin was recognized for a strong and effective partnership with UW-Extension in establishing AgrAbility of Wisconsin to bring education and assistance to farmers with disabilities.