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Program helps Illinois farmers and workers keep farming in spite of health challenges

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(The Center Square) – Farming has always been the backbone of Illinois.

Many workers on the farm experience health challenges. A program is available to help those farmers and workers keep their independence.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, Illinois has 70,700 farms in operation. Many of those on the farm experience some sort of health or physical challenges. AgrAbility, a USDA funded program, seeks to help those farmers, agricultural workers and migrants, in spite of their health challenges.

“An injury or a chronic health condition can keep farmers who want to go on farming from safely managing their work,” Dr. Josie Rudolphi, director of Illinois AgrAbility, told The Center Square. “We are here to help farmers who want to keep their independence.”

Farmers and agricultural workers or their friends or family are encouraged to contact the Illinois AgrAbility program to discuss their particular situation, Rudolphi said. Illinois AgrAbility has resources to help farmers with many different kinds of challenges and limitations, including neuropathy and arthritis, disabilities, chronic conditions and vision problems.

For 30 years, Illinois AgrAbility has been coming up with workarounds and putting farmers in touch with providers and services that can help them manage farm chores in spite of age and disabilities. Thanks to a federal grant in 2022, Illinois AgrAbility has funding for personnel who can visit farms and make specific recommendations, Rudolphi said.

Perhaps the farmer has trouble getting in and out of the tractor.

“Building a ramp that is more of a permanent structure, where the farmer can always load and unload from the ramp, is an example of something that is relatively low cost but can really change the way somebody can get on their piece of equipment,” Rudolphi said. “If the farmer wants to build something themselves, we can help connect them with plans that are vetted for safety and other standards.”

AgrAbility can recommend tools that require less dexterity and gates that are easier to open and close.

Another goal of AgrAbility is to provide education around agricultural safety and health. They are gearing up to offer a no-cost program for farmers who want to learn how to better manage chronic pain, Rudolphi said.

“We know farmers live with pain. We know pain is very challenging,” Rudolphi said. “We are very excited to be able to offer this program.”

Through partnerships with other organizations, AgrAbility puts farmers in touch with services that can make farm chores manageable, Rudolphi said.

The Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Community Health Partnership of Illinois and the Illinois Assistive Technology Program all have services that can be useful.

“Lots of times, farmers are not aware of programs that they qualify for,” Rudolphi said.

For information, visit AgrAbility Unlimited at agrabilityunlimited.org or call program coordinator Haley Jones at (217) 244-2948 or by email haleyj@illinois.edu.

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