Aging and ailments limit some South Carolina farmers, but faculty and researchers at Clemson and South Carolina State universities are looking to help make agriculture accessible for people with disabilities.
South Carolina farmers are getting older with the average age being 58.2 years old and agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. To help improve the quality of life and cultivate independence for residents with disabilities, the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) recently awarded a grant to Clemson and South Carolina State University, in conjunction with other organizations, to start an AgrAbility program in South Carolina.
The program will be led by faculty in Clemson’s Department of Agricultural Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service agents and researchers at both universities.
Dale Layfield, Clemson associate professor of agricultural education, said the AgrAbility program helps eliminate obstacles people with disabilities face in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations. Disabilities impact about 15%-20% of the United States’ farming population.
“For some farmers, growing older makes handling everyday tasks more troublesome and they are eager to find helpful solutions to overcome these barriers,” Layfield said. “In addition, disabled individuals interested in agriculture also face the same challenges and seek resources that may offer solutions. This program will help the South Carolina agricultural community develop barrier-free farming.”
Disabilities affecting the farming population include amputations, arthritis, back impairment, deafness/hearing impairment, developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy or autism, disabling diseases such as cancer or heart disease, mental and behavioral issues, respiratory diseases, spinal cord injuries, stroke, traumatic brain injury and visual impairments.
Members from participating agencies will identify beginning and experienced farmers who have disabilities, including military veterans, minorities, underserved farmer groups, youth interested in farming and women. The South Carolina AgrAbility team will hold workshops, resource development, activities for online education, networking and site visits, as well as consultations and business planning. The team also will educate farmers, ranchers and laborers, and others about services and resources available to accommodate disabilities in the farming environment. In addition to Layfield, other Clemson team members are Lance Beecher, Hunter Massey and Aaron Turner.
The team also will provide information on how to use new technologies, instruction for the proper application and use of agriculture tools, and information on functional design to aid in using the tools, as well as how to prevent injuries in the agricultural workplace.
For more information about this program, contact Layfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The South Carolina AgrAbility Program is just one example of how Clemson and South Carolina State are working together to serve the state. The universities also have received $70 million from the USDA to provide incentives to South Carolina farmers to implement climate-smart production practices. Both institutions have established strategic partnerships with 27 entities, and the project will focus on representative agricultural production sectors of South Carolina and the Southeast, including vegetables, peanuts, beef cattle and forest products, and will ensure meaningful involvement of small and underserved producers.
In another collaborative effort, Cooperative Extension Service agents and researchers from both universities recently met for their first joint conference. They laid out plans for how they will collaborate to provide information to help improve the lives of people living in South Carolina.
“This collaboration between Clemson Extension and South Carolina State Extension will allow us to work together to provide even more valuable information and resources for South Carolina residents,” said Tom Dobbins, Clemson Extension director. “As we move forward, Clemson and South Carolina State will have a great working relationship without losing our identities.”
Edoe Agbodjan, associate Extension Administrator at South Carolina State said, “Working in Extension is not just a job, it’s something we take pride in. We don’t keep track of time. We just work. That’s because we want to make a difference. We look forward to this partnership with Clemson Extension and what it will allow us to do for South Carolina residents.”
In addition to Extension Service agents and researchers, other organizations participating in the program to bring AgrAbility to the state include Able South Carolina (Able SC), South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department, South Carolina Department of Education (Office of Special Education), University of South Carolina Assistive Technology Program, Farmer Veteran Coalition of South Carolina and the Upstate Warrior Solution. These organizations will conduct training workshops and team up with engineers to create innovative solutions for overcoming the barriers to farming.
Clemson and South Carolina State are bringing AgrAbility to South Carolina to help disabled farmers gain access to equipment, technology and more to help them in their farming operations. Photos by USDA
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