Veteran Grows a Farming Career

Cathie Dibert served her country as an E4 specialist in Army military intelligence. Returning to the Claysburg area, she became a registered nurse, and now, a farmer.

Cathie knew she would have to retire from nursing after a heart attack at 35. She needed something that allowed her to have a flexible schedule, good exercise, and plenty of rest. Her husband Rodney Dibert, a building contractor, had acquired the family farm that consisted of 68 acres. But more than 50 of those were mountainous.

“We had five beef cattle, a few run-down outbuildings, and a small amount of ground that might be productive,” said Cathie. Thus, Green“er’’ Acres Farm was born. “I actually grow all of my vegetables on less than an acre of ground,” she said.

Green“er” Acres produce is sold under the Homegrown by Heroes and Pennsylvania Preferred labeling programs. The Homegrown by Heroes label is open to all farmer veterans. Pennsylvania Preferred denotes the products are grown in Pennsylvania.


Cathie’s high tunnel is her pride and joy. Many luscious vegetables are started here.

To start, Cathie received some assistance from the Farmer Veterans Coalition. The program identifies the needs and furthers the agriculture careers of those who have served their country and are now serving their communities through farming. Cathie has been working to help start a Pennsylvania coalition so other veteran farmers can get future help. It takes 10 people to form such a coalition.

A few years ago, Cathie received a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service grant to install a high tunnel with deep irrigation for her farm. Because plants are protected from the weather, high tunnel tomatoes are protected from blight. The tunnel is the site of a huge array of vegetables including garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage, Swiss chard, kale, beets, and tomatoes.

Cathie added wall mounts in the tunnel to grow strawberries. She attempted raspberry bushes but found they want to take over the tunnel. Her goal is to have another high tunnel for fruits. “We are putting almost everything we make back into the business at this time,” she said.

With her husband in contracting, the couple has learned to recycle many things. Rodney built her a small greenhouse out of leftover lumber. He also built her a seed starting spot in the basement of their home.


Cathie Dibert at work in her raised beds located on a hillside. The ground would otherwise be unusable.

For her part, Cathie constructed raised garden beds on some of her hillier property sections to expand her growing space. She struck up a deal with the local Intermunicipal Relations Committee, a recycling organization in nearby Altoona. She gets rich topsoil that plants thrive in. Her four raised beds are about 3 feet by 25 feet located in what would have been an unusable space. Most of the crops are chemical-free. Organic and conventional growing practices are used when appropriate.

Cathie also worked with AgrAbility PA and the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). Their support included a visit from an occupational therapist and a farm assessment of her property to identify modifications and equipment that would facilitate her farming efforts. Because she was eligible to receive their services, OVR provided funding for Cathie to acquire a John Deere Gator so that she could easily access different areas of the farm while reducing physical strain, especially on her heart.

Now into her 13th year of farming and with eight years of Farmers’ Markets under her belt, Cathie said she is still constantly learning. She’s also always looking for ways to be slightly different. She likes to offer vegetables that come in unusual hues, such as purple tomatoes, or beans, or peppers, explaining that “the different colors mean they have more antioxidants.” She also hosts a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. She tries to have what the people want and if possible, be the first at the local Farmers’ Market with whatever vegetable ripens next. In addition to the vegetables, Cathie offers eggs, chicken, and some pork.

“Truthfully, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the help of AgrAbility PA and OVR. The Gator is indispensable in carrying the totes of produce up and down the hills of the farm in order to get them to market,” she said.

Part of Cathie’s story is reprinted with permission from Lancaster Farming, the leading Northeast and Mid-Atlantic farm newspaper, where she was featured in an article.

Managing Stress during Harvest Season

Harvest time can be one of the busiest and stressful times of the year for a farmer and their family.

Harvest photo

Farming is a multi-faceted way of life for many families in Pennsylvania. However, harvest time can be one of the busiest and stressful times of the year as farm families try to balance school, fall activities, and harvest while battling unpredictable weather condition.

Stress can negatively impact your health so it is important to take rest and stretch breaks, stay hydrated, eat healthy, and get adequate sleep. These tips may be easier said than done but are a step in the right direction to keeping yourself healthy during harvest season:

  • Exercise: Many farmers feel that the physical labor that they do on the farm is enough, but having a regular exercise or stretching program provides a break in your daily routine, benefits your overall health, and provides a constructive way to relieve excess energy. Strive to exercise three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  • Caffeine: Reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet. By eliminating this stimulant, a person may have reduced headaches, increased relaxation, improved sleep, a calmer mood—and, counter intuitively, more energy.
  • Humor: The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” isn’t inaccurate—laughter might help to reduce your stress, so explore ways (social groups, books, and so on) to add some laughter to your life.
  • Talking: Having a strong network of friends and family can help provide necessary support during stressful times. Make sure that you have a couple of people to whom you can vent your problems to help reduce built up stress.
  • Relaxation Techniques: There are simple relaxation techniques that can help you clear your mind and reduce tension. Techniques include deep breathing and taking mini-breaks during the day.
  • Sleep: If you are not getting enough sleep at night to be refreshed in the morning and energetic enough for the day, then you may need to consider a midday power nap.
  • Nutrition: Make sure that you are eating balanced meals throughout the day.
  • Breaks: Take some time from the stressful situation by going for a walk, spending some time alone, working on a hobby, meditating, and so on.

For more tips, resources, and information about stress, read the
Ag Safety & Health eXtension Community of Practice article.

AT Spotlight: Grain Auger with Drop Points

This is a solution that will enable individuals with various disabilities to continue feeding their livestock.

Large or small, all livestock operations require a daily feeding routine. Moving the feed from storage to the animals is typically the most physically demanding and repetitive portion of the task.

On smaller farms, using wheelbarrows, buckets, shovels, and scoops is common practice for moving feed. These methods place strain on joints and increases general fatigue. For individuals with back or joint impairments, these tasks can be brutal.

This task is often repeated twice a day and can take a considerable amount of time and energy.  atspotlight

The first step in modifying this task is placing a feed storage area as close to the feeding location as possible. Small grain bins (pictured above) can be placed next to the barn or structure.

The next step is installing an auger system with drop points. Several types of augers are available, including a flex auger that can bend to reach tricky locations. Drop points of varying numbers can then be added to drop the feed directly into the feeders. This is all controlled by levers and buttons.

This is an ideal solution that will enable individuals with various disabilities to continue feeding their livestock.

For more solutions and ideas, visit our Assistive Technology on the Farm board on Pinterest! 

Celebrate National AgrAbility Day – Sept 19, 2016!

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians Project (AgrAbility PA) will join the National AgrAbility Project, as well as other state and regional AgrAbility projects, to celebrate National AgrAbility Day on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016.

image_galleryzoomNational AgrAbility Day will occur as part of National Farm Safety and Health Week – Sept. 18-24, 2016. AgrAbility PA will be partnering with several organizations and agencies to share the news about the services and resources available to farmers or agricultural workers with a disability or long-term health condition.

AgrAbility PA is a statewide partnership between Penn State Extension and UCP Central PA in support of a project funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). AgrAbility PA has been providing resources and services since 1995. Some of the more common disabilities or health conditions that Pennsylvania farmers may have include: arthritis, spinal cord injury, amputation, traumatic brain injury, stroke, diabetes, visual or hearing loss, respiratory problems, and back impairment or joint injuries.

“This project has undoubtedly made a positive impact and has certainly improved the lives of farmers throughout Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Connie Baggett, project director for AgrAbility PA and associate professor of agricultural and extension education at Penn State University.

“As an agency committed to meeting the needs of individuals of all ages with all types of disabilities, UCP Central PA is pleased to be a partner on this project,” said Janeen Latin, chief management officer at UCP and non-profit project director for AgrAbility PA. “National AgrAbility Day offers an opportunity to raise the profile of the AgrAbility project as we continue to spread the word about how AgrAbility can help Pennsylvanians across the state working in agriculture with a disability or long-term health condition.”

Join us in celebrating National AgrAbility Day on Sept. 19! Here are some ways to get involved:

  • Follow AgrAbility PA on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and more!
  • Meet us at an event: AgrAbility PA is out and about throughout the year across the state. View our upcoming schedule of events.
  • Know someone involved in Pennsylvania’s FFA? Tell them about the Bridging Horizons PA Contest for students in FFA. It is new for this year. More information is available at
  • Visit a Farmers Market: Buy directly from the source! Make it an adventure and visit one in another town. A list of PA Farmers Markets.
  • Contact a legislator: Share with them the news about AgrAbility and how important it is that Pennsylvania continue to support the agricultural industry.
  • Check out The Toolbox: An online resource that contains assistive technology solutions for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities. View by category or search the Toolbox to find products, designs, ideas, techniques, and suggestions.
  • “25 Years, 25 Stories:” Read stories about people who have been positively impacted by working with an AgrAbility project in their state, including the Lehman brothers from Pennsylvania.

For more information, visit the AgrAbility PA website at or contact AgrAbility PA at or (814) 867-5288 for more details.

About AgrAbility PA

AgrAbility PA logoFirst authorized in the 1990 Farm Bill (but with funding appropriations beginning in 1991), the National AgrAbility Project began with eight state projects. The number of projects has since grown to a total of 20 this year. AgrAbility consists of the National AgrAbility Project (NAP) and state/regional AgrAbility projects (SRAPs), such as AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians Project. Each project involves collaboration between a land-grant university and at least one non-profit disability services organization.

AgrAbility PA provides a variety of services, at no cost, including:

  • On-site farm assessments to identify barriers and challenges
  • Identifying safe and appropriate assistive technologies, such as equipment, devices or efficient modified work practices
  • Information referral on agriculture, safety, and disabilities
  • Educational training opportunities
  • Referrals to outside agencies for assistance, such as funding resources or occupational and physical therapy assessments
  • Provide peer support to connect farmers with each other

AgrAbility PA does not provide direct funding, however, the staff works with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF), Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT), and other third-party funding sources to help farmers and farm families obtain needed equipment, assistive technologies, and modifications.

National AgrAbility Project compiles 25 stories in honor of 25th anniversary

As the National AgrAbility Project celebrates its 25-year anniversary during 2016, a booklet has been developed highlighting 25 of the thousands of stories that illustrate how AgrAbility has impacted the lives of people all around the nation, and even those in other countries.

AgrAbility 25 Years, 25 Stories: 1991 – 2016 features individuals and families, farmers and agricultural workers, and small farming businesses that have been positively impacted by working with an AgrAbility project in their state.

From Pennsylvania,the Lehman brothers were featured. Tim and Colby are dairymen on their family farm in Chamberburg, Pennsylvania. Their work is physically demanding, requiring long hours in the milking parlor multiple times a day in addition to barn cleaning and a variety of outdoor tasks. Added to their challenges are their smaller sizes: 48” and 46” respectively, due to Dyggve-Melchoir-Clausen (DMC) syndrome, a rare genetic bone disorder.

Tim unit in actionSince their parlor is pit-type (where workers stand several feet below the cows), the Lehmans had to repeatedly climb on and off stools to attach and detach milking units.  This caused concern about safety and long-term joint complications related to DMC.

To assist, AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians worked with state Vocational Rehabilitation to engage Life Essentials, an assistive technology company, which custom-made powered trolleys mounted to rails that were installed on both sides of the parlor. Now the Lehmans can glide the length of the parlor at cow-level height without repeatedly mounting and dismounting stools.  Also acquired were automatic take-offs for the milking units and power-operated steps to enter and exit the milking parlor.

“We are so grateful to AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians’ involvement in helping us identify equipment and modifications that make a huge difference for the boys,” said their mother Tina Lehman. Their father Lester added, “We wanted to provide a career opportunity for them so that as they mature, they will have a place to use their time and talents. We feel truly blessed to have this farm, and blessed to watch our sons become men.”

Learn more about “25 Years, 25 Stories” on the National AgrAbility website.

For more information, visit the AgrAbility PA website or follow AgrAbility PA on social media: Like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or on our WordPress blog. Contact AgrAbility PA at or (814) 867-5288 for more details.