Farm Assessment and Rehabilitation Methods (FARM) Program
- Need: To help farmers with disabilities continue farming while protecting their well-being.
- Intervention: The FARM program helps disabled or ill farmers continue to operate and work their Wisconsin farms.
- Results: Since 2009, the FARM Program has helped over 3,500 farmers continue to farm, resume farming, or find an alternative agricultural occupation.
Farmers with disabilities are faced with added challenges that day-to-day farming operation bring. Physically demanding farm chores, uneven terrain, and aging equipment often need to be handled differently for farmers with disabilities. In agriculture, time is of the essence – if a farmer suffers a disability and is unable to complete tasks on the farm, production suffers and financial loss can follow. The culture of privacy and self-sufficiency that accompanies agricultural occupations may hinder disabled farmers from getting the assistance they need to perform their responsibilities in a timely manner.
Since 1991, Easter Seals Wisconsin (ESW) has been providing vocational rehabilitation, counseling, and technology assistance to disabled self-employed farmers in rural communities through the FARM (Farm Assessment and Rehabilitation Methods) Program.
FARM has not only developed a strategy that helps disabled farmers regain or continue their occupation, but also one that helps sustain and protect the farmer from further medical deterioration. The FARM team understands that losing the ability to farm extends beyond the loss of one's vocation. It often means losing the family homestead and the history passed on from previous generations.
Common disabilities of farmers the program serves include:
- Back injuries
- Injuries caused by repetitive use
- Joint replacement
- Limb amputation or crush injuries
- Mental or cognitive impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
FARM is operated in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Extension AgrAbility Program and the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Other partners and financial supporters include:
- In 2015, the Easter Seals Wisconsin FARM program was awarded a grant by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture for a 3-year project, Securing Beginning Farmers Through Succession Planning. The project helped farmers secure succession plans and ensure a successful transition to the next generation.
- The Otto Bremer Trust Foundation awarded FARM a grant that underwrote the costs to serve 25 farmers with disabilities host an outreach event, and other project development.
- The Wisconsin Farm Center provides information regarding financial and legal counseling and mediation services.
- The National Farm Medicine Center educates and guides FARM about the medical influence and options for a disabled farmer.
FARM Rural Rehabilitation Specialists assist clients with information, referral services, and accessing needed resources. Farmers participating in the program can expect a visit from a FARM Rural Rehabilitation Specialist who will:
- Offer a confidential on-farm worksite assessment
- Identification of suitable assistive technology
- Gathering multiple cost estimates for equipment
- Case management to assure that the plan is successfully implemented
- Define with the farmer the tasks that must be completed daily and seasonally
- Describe options that may be available to address disability-related limitations affecting the farmer's ability to complete such tasks
- Work with the farmer to develop an individualized plan of recommendations for specific equipment, equipment adaptations, worksite modifications, or job restructuring
- Provide referrals to resources and information on support groups, farm safety, stress management, healthcare, and financial support
- Connect farmers to free or reasonably-priced equipment through the Agricultural Equipment Exchange
The FARM program also:
- Provides training to DVR staff
- Troubleshoots the most difficult and complex cases with DVR counselors
- Researches vendors, completes assessment reports, and prepares training materials
The Wisconsin DVR considers the FARM Program extremely successful. Since 2011, clients who have been jointly served by FARM and DVR have achieved a 97% rate of success. In almost all cases, assistive technology and adaptations were used to maintain the farm operation.
Since 2009, the FARM Program has helped over 3,500 farmers continue to farm, resume farming, or find an alternative agricultural occupation, thereby having a positive impact for their rural communities as well.
In 2008, ESW surveyed 204 clients with cases closed between 2001 and 2006. The survey had a 97% response rate with the following results:
- 204 farmers were served jointly by WI DVR and ESW over a 5-year period
- 1,102 pieces of assistive technology equipment were provided
- 97% of the farmers were still actively engaged in farming
- 97% of the assistive technology equipment was still being used by the farmer
Farmer success stories can be found on the ESW website.
Awards and Recognition:
- Recognized by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).
- Finalist for the 2014 Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust Innovations in Rural Health Award.
- Winner of the Donor Forum of Wisconsin's Good Grant Award, honoring the FARM Program and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for working together to meet a community need.
- In 2010, NIDDR awarded ESW a 3-year grant to provide training on this model to 5 states on-site: Michigan, Utah, Oklahoma, Missouri and Virginia. The FARM Program also provides seminars and on-farm mentoring across the nation.
A significant investment of time was necessary to develop a common understanding among program partners.
One key factor in the success of the FARM program is the organization's knowledge of farming and agriculture, combined with its expertise in rehabilitation technology.
Investing in developing relationships among vocational rehabilitation agencies and nonprofit partners to provide these services proved not only to be a cost-effective investment, but also helped to preserve families, communities, and a way of life.
Contact InformationCally Ehle, Director, Grants Management
Easter Seals Wisconsin
Farm Assessment and Rehabilitation Methods (FARM) Program
Agricultural health and safety
Farmers and farmworkers
People with disabilities
April 16, 2014
Date updated or reviewed
February 15, 2023
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2023. Farm Assessment and Rehabilitation Methods (FARM) Program [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/747 [Accessed 29 March 2023]
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