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March 2011

West Virginia

West Virginia AgrAbility is happy to share another success story of a farmer carrying on his farm operation with a little assistance from West Virginia AgrAbility and the Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Due to different health problems, this farmer did not know if he would be able to continue providing fruits and nuts to his local customers. Mandatory chores to keep his operation running, like carrying and spreading mulch and pest spray as well as working in areas too small to fit machinery, made continuing to farm nearly impossible. After many conversations and visits with the farmer, it was agreed that if there was an easier way to get the chores done, the farmer would be able to continue running the farm himself. The farmer was determined to find a way. The farmer felt that if physical work did not cause him to have extremely labored breathing, then he could much more easily run his farm.

AgrAbility staff suggested several different assistive technology devices that could help the farmer do his chores with less impact on his respiratory system. One of the main recommendations was the Bobcat Toolcat. This utility work vehicle provided the agricultural worksite accommodations that met most of the needs of this farmer’s agricultural operation. The Toolcat combines the easy mobility that comes with a utility vehicle for mobility with the added durability, weight, low center of gravity, and safety features only found on a utility work vehicle. In addition, more than 40 different attachments can be used with the Toolcat.

The Toolcat is also easy to operate. The hydrostatic transmission is operated by a single shuttle shift lever and is located where the turn signal switch is usually found in a car. The Toolcat only has forward and reverse; no shifting is necessary. By placing the shuttle shifter in the neutral position, the Toolcat is locked in ‘park’ and will not move. The vehicle will come to a complete stop and not move by just letting off the accelerator; no braking is necessary, even on an incline. The ability to let off the accelerator and not have to press a brake pedal is added safety for any operator. The dumping cargo box is operated by a lever located on the center console. A standard receiver hitch has a towing capacity of 4,000 lbs.

The Toolcat is always in all wheel drive so tires do not cause as much ground disturbance as other vehicles might. It is also extremely easy to maneuver. Both the front and rear wheels steer at the same time, giving the Toolcat a very small turning radius. This allows it to get into areas that other front wheel drive vehicles cannot, like barnyards, and around trees and fence posts, because of the large turning radius.

This farm accommodation may sound extreme for just getting around and doing chores more easily. However, relying on hired help and losing his job were not options. The Toolcat provides much more to this farming operation than just meeting the need to get around more easily. The Toolcat has the lifting capabilities, in this case for mulch, manure, and pesticides, that someone with respiratory problems lacks.

Due to the Toolcat’s cost, staff worked with the farmer to find funding. AgrAbility turned to DRS. DRS provides funding for work place accommodations. In this case, a Toolcat is considered a workplace accommodation because without it, the farmer would not be able to continue his work. The farmer, DRS, and West Virginia AgrAbility agreed that using a Toolcat would enable the farmer to keep his farm going. DRS agreed to pay for the Toolcat. He qualified for funding because his farm is his main source of income. With this workplace accommodation, this farmer is able to continue his operation in less pain, and hopefully do so for many more years to come.

Staff exhibited and presented West Virginia AgrAbility at the 7th Annual Small Farm Conference, held February 18 and 19 in Morgantown. West Virginia AgrAbility exhibited alongside solar panel installation companies, representatives of the buy-local movement, and traditional agriculture service providers, such as USDA, WV Department of Agriculture, and Extension Service.

The majority of this year’s workshops were presented by farmers. This created an atmosphere for group discussions and networking throughout the workshops and conference. Workshops included presentations on tree fruit production, farmers markets, a forestry tract, and ruminant and poultry management.

Workshops did not all focus on the mechanics of farm production. A few workshops and exhibits spotlighted the buy-local movement. The slow food movement, one subgroup of the buy-local movement, was introduced to both farmers and consumers at a workshop and meeting. The idea behind this movement is to connect farmers to local consumers directly so that the money used to buy local food is reinvested directly back into the local economy. The movement also aims to bring people back to the dinner table to enjoy food and the company of others. For more information call Marion Ohlinger at Morgantown’s Richwood Grill at 304-292-1888.

Another subgroup of the buy-local movement, the Farm2U Collaborative, was also present at the conference. This collaborative emphasizes preserving small farms, the environment, and the traditional Appalachian lifestyle through sustainable agriculture and buy-local practices. This collaborative has its roots in culinary and cultural tourism. These types of tourism show off a region’s indigenous food and ingredients as well as customary cooking techniques. For more information visit

Local food held the spotlight again this year. All the food that was served during the conference was from within a two hundred radius of Morgantown. Conference goers enjoyed fresh bread and butter, fruit, salads, lasagna, and much more throughout the three day gathering. A ‘pop off’ was held Friday afternoon to exhibit seven local popcorns. The tasting also included nationally produced popcorn, and was open to all conference attendees. The competition ended in a tie between Mountain Diamond Longhorn and Hawthorne Valley Farm.

This year’s conference not only saw a flurry of new workshop tracts, an expansion of agriculture topics, and culinary tastings; but also a lot of people. Attendees numbered about 260 each day. “This year was a big success,” said Carrie See, program coordinator at the Small Farm Center. “By putting on this conference, we meet so many new and interesting people. The biggest reward from putting on this conference is bringing together all of these fabulous people.”

Keep your eye on for information about the 8th annual Small Farm Conference.

Submitted by Mary Slabinski