One quirky effort to reach farmers with disabilities becomes a national model... and a deep Web resource
For 13 years, the University of Missouri AgrAbility project has been running a program that provides strategies, tools, adaptive services, and education on accessible gardening. Funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), it began in 1998 as back-door outreach to farmers and ranchers with disabilities. "Because in '97-98 there were no farmers and ranchers with disabilities in the entire state!" kids Program Co-Director Karen Funkenbusch. "Anyway, AgrAbility couldn't find them."
Funkenbusch's father-in-law--himself a farmer--came up with the gardening approach. "He told me I should go into the churches and talk about tools for the garden, since everybody has a vegetable garden." The presentations turned out to be popular--appealing to people's passions--and led to home visits with parishioners. "I'd get out there and it would be, 'Karen while you're here talking to Mamma about her garden, could you come look at my tractor? I've had a hip replacement, and I can't get up on my tractor."
Today Missouri AgrAbility works with 50 clients with disabilities each year.
To some, accessible gardening seemed to stray from the USDA AgrAbility mission, which aims to keep farmers with disabilities safely farming. But Funkenbusch persevered. "Agriculture includes your Victory garden, landscaping, horticulture, even agri tourism. And with vegetable gardening, most farmers bring their produce to markets, or church, or sell it at a road-side stand. These are all agricultural occupations if you bring in $1000." (Missouri AgrAbility is currently helping a veteran start a niche market horticulture business; they've had a farmer put a cabin on his land for turkey hunting, and another use his silos for ice climbing.)
Armed with this justification--as well as adapted wheelbarrows, shovels, and hoes--Funkenbusch reached farmers and ranchers of many communities. "We work with Latino, Hmong, Amish, Mennonite, African American, you name it."
From 1999 to 2008, arthritis-specific funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to the MU Medical School allowed for program expansion and the development of more resources, including the Gardens for Every Body Web site. These days most AgrAbility programs around the country have a gardening component using the Gardens for Every Body materials. And these days Funkenbusch, herself, gives fewer presentations and instead supports the activities of her program's extensive partners.
Gardens for Every Body Partners
- University of Missouri Extension specialists, including Master Gardeners, are trained in Gardens for Every Body and provide workshops, outreach and referral in rural and urban churches, libraries, and community centers statewide. (Every USDA AgrAbility program works through a land grant university and its extension services.)
- Centers for Independent Living (ILCs) provide Gardens for Everybody information and referral and help AgrAbility clients navigate state resources. (Every USDA AgrAbility program works in partnership with nonprofit disability organizations and MO AgrAbility partnered with the ILCs at the advice of the state's Tech Act program--the first AgrAbility program to do so.)
- MU's Dept. of OT/PT students. This partnership, one of the program's first, has had statewide impact. Students learn about Gardens for Every Body and adapt a tool for particular client needs. They then graduate and work in a variety of settings throughout the state, sometimes starting accessible garden programs, often calling Funkenbusch or their local University of Missouri Extension Center with client referrals.
- Nursing homes: another spot where MU students land. This has lead to advising facilities on creating accessible gardens.
- Rural County Health Nurses: Funkenbusch partners with nurses doing outreach on arthritis to integrate Gardens for Every Body information and referral.
- USDA Farm Services Agency: provide AgrAbility outreach materials and referrals to farmers and ranchers who come in to apply for loans.
- Vocational Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Services for the Blind (RFB), and the Veterans Administration (VA) are all sources of funding for AT for vocational purposes. Newly returned veterans are a new focus area of Missouri AgrAbility.
- Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart donated tools, gadgets, equipment and materials. Funkenbusch reports these were easy donations to obtain simply by going into the stores and asking.
- Missouri AT program helped MU obtain the AgrAbility grant to begin with and continues to provide referrals and consultation to the program.
Spend time learning about garden tools, strategies, structures, and systems at the Gardens for Every Body Web site.
Karen Funkenbusch, program co-director
University of Missouri AgrAbility Project