On Friday, April 29 at 8:15 a.m., the big bus began loading for the Farm Tour for Transitioning Soldiers and Veterans originating from Fort Riley, home of the Big Red One. The tour was sponsored by ServicememberAgricultural Vocation Education (SAVE) and Kansas AgrAbility. Forty soldiers, veterans, KS AgrAbility Specialists and others traveled to a north central Kansas farm near Jewell to meet Michael Bolte and his wife Becky, and their son Marcus.
The Bolte’s have a typical Kansas farm with row crops and livestock. Mr. Bolte uses a power wheelchair for mobility because of a progressive health condition. He showed tour members how his use of assistive technology enables him to remain an active farmer, including a chair lift that he manages with a remote control to put him in the driver’s seat of his machinery.
After lunch, the tour proceeded to visit Galen and Marilyn Seehafer’s farm near Beloit that features a high tunnel (hoop house) to grow vegetable crops. Mr. Seehafer depends on assistive technology to help him compensate for lower extremity mobility issues.
On hand to answer questions and brainstorm solutions were Kerri Ebert, Kansas AgrAbility project coordinator (Kansas State University); Sheila Simmons, Assistive Technology for Kansans (ATK) program coordinator; and Kansas AgrAbility Agriculture AT Specialists, Cassie Ramon and Nancy Stork. Kerri Ebert noted, “On a daily basis AT Ag Specialists combine their knowledge of agriculture with disability expertise to provide farmers, ranchers, and farm workers with the specialized services needed to safety accommodate their disabilities in everyday farm and ranch operations. Additionally, the project engages extension educators, disability experts, rural professionals, and volunteers in offering an array of services.”
After seeing the standing platform lift and chair boom lift in action, one soldier said, “I never knew there was equipment like this.”
One soldier commented, “It’s amazing how he (Bolte) can run his farm and do pretty much anything he wants to do.”
Another soldier with balance and mobility issues preparing to leave the Army asked what states had AgrAbility programs. He was interested in funds available for beginning farmers and veterans for high tunnels and possible help from AgrAbility in figuring out modifications might be useful for him.
The Kansas AgrAbility Project staff provide a range of no-cost assistance to farmers, ranchers, and farm workers who have disabilities such as spinal cord injuries and amputations or other health conditions such as arthritis, chronic back pain, and behavioral issues.
AgrAbility is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and consists of a National Project and State/Regional Projects, including the Kansas AgrAbility Project. Each project is a collaborative partnership between a land grant university and one or more nonprofit disability services organizations.
Kansas AgrAbility partners are: Kansas State University, Southeast Kansas Independent Living (SKIL), and Assistive Technology for Kansans (ATK) (University of Kansas).
How does a person apply? Simply call our toll free number 1-800- KAN DO IT (1-800-526-3648) and ask to have someone with AgrAbility return your call. The Assistive Technology Ag Specialist who returns your call will discuss your situation and what modifications might be needed to keep farming and will help determine if a farm visit will be necessary.