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April 2017


Abbie Spackman at AOTA ConferenceAgrAbility PA Project Assistant Abbie Spackman and NAP OT intern Adriana Escarpita represented the National AgrAbility Project at the 2017 American Occupational Therapy Association Conference and Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia, PA. Over 12,000 occupational therapists and students attended the conference. Attendees who stopped by the AgrAbility booth were able to learn about AgrAbility services, the role OTs play in providing those services, and how they can connect with the project in their home state. They were also able to try out gardening assistive technology and tools. The learning enthusiasm shown by the attendees was exciting! Many individuals shared how excited they were to learn about AgrAbility resources and assistive technology unique to agriculture.

Members of the AgrAbility PA staff traveled to Knoxville, TN, to attend the 2017 AgrAbility National Training Workshop, March 20-23. Case Coordinator and Project Assistant Abbie Spackman, Digital Media and Outreach Coordinator Kendra Martin, a farmer, and an occupational therapist, represented AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians (AgrAbility PA) at the national workshop. The workshop was packed full of speakers, educational sessions, networking opportunities, hands-on demonstrations, and farm tours. Topics included service to veterans, assistive technology, financial assistance, new and beginning farmers, health and wellness sessions, sustainability, outreach strategies, and more. Sessions also included information on farming with a brain injury, mental health, urban agriculture, military culture, and niche markets.
Highlights included an update from Aida Balsano, national program leader with the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture; motivational speaker Ashlee Lundvall, who was paralyzed in a ranching incident in 1999; and assistive technology demonstrations and tours of local Tennessee farms involved in farm to table and hydroponics.

Overall, the 2017 AgrAbility National Training Workshop was a great learning experience and provided an opportunity to connect with dozens of people committed to the mission of AgrAbility: to promote success in agriculture for farmers with a disability or long-term health condition.

The AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians Advisory Group held an annual meeting in State College, PA, on March 16. The group met to review the project scope, responsibilities, and overall efforts of the grant-based program.

The Advisory Group consists of experts and specialist from state agencies, organizations, and non-profits throughout Pennsylvania. Examples include the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT), Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF), Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and PA Area Health Education Center. The group also consists of occupational and physical therapists, agriculturalists, and AgrAbility PA clients.

Project highlights presented and discussed included AgrAbility PA outreach at events, efforts in marketing, use of social media, updates on current and past AgrAbility PA clients, and an overview of the year ahead as well as new initiatives. New initiatives include an increased effort to reach veterans and women who are currently working in, or may be interested in, a career in agriculture; continued targeted outreach to legislators throughout the state; and growth in database for communications and marketing.

Randy Loss with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) shared that arthritis and back injuries are the top two types of disabilities for agricultural clients working with OVR. Additional types of disabilities include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and stroke. Randy stated that 90% of the agricultural cases come from AgrAbility PA. The statewide rate of success for agricultural cases through OVR is 88.5%. He also discussed a potential new partnership between OVR and agricultural educators in schools to provide valuable services to high school and transition age students as they explore on-the-job experiences in agriculture. "This project has undoubtedly made a positive impact and has certainly improved the lives of farmers throughout Pennsylvania for more than 20 years," said Dr. Connie Baggett, AgrAbility PA project director and associate professor of agricultural and Extension education at Penn State University.

Submitted by Abbie Spackman