PA Dept of Ag honors Centre County Veteran for his work in education, industry

In observance of Veterans’ Day on Nov. 11, 2015, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding congratulated United States Army veteran and Penn State University professor Dr. Connie Baggett for his contributions to agriculture and his service to our nation. Dr. Baggett is also project director for AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians Project, a grant-funded program to assist farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities or long-term health conditions by providing the resources and support they need to live independently and continue in production agriculture.


Dr. Baggett, AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians Projects Director

“Two percent of the population feeds us and two percent protect us,” said Redding. “Dr. Baggett is among those rare individuals who do both. Through his work at Penn State, Dr. Baggett is introducing students to the opportunities agriculture affords each of us. Dr. Baggett also served in the United States Army in both Vietnam and Germany. As we prepare to observe Veterans’ Day, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Baggett for his service to our country and for the work he has undertaken to teach the next generation of agriculturalists.”

The department has undertaken a workforce development initiative to help identify the talent pool of individuals who can enter careers in agriculture. The department is also pinpointing the available training programs to prepare individuals for entry into the agriculture workforce. There will be an estimated 75,000 job openings in the industry in the next decade. Part of the department’s work includes connecting with non-traditional employees, including veterans, who can bring additional skills to the workforce.

“The individuals who keep our country safe provide us with so much,” Redding added. “When returning home, many veterans continue to serve by entering the field of agriculture — or, in Dr. Baggett’s case, teaching individuals about the opportunities the industry has to offer. Dr. Baggett and each of our farmer veterans are to be commended for all they do to care and provide for each of us.”

Late this summer, the department announced the Homegrown By Heroes (HBH) initiative. HBH is the official farmer veteran branding program of America. The HBH logo serves to inform consumers that products donning the logo were produced by military veterans. The program is available to farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and value-added producers of all branches and eras of military service. Several states have officially partnered with Homegrown By Heroes to promote the HBH label. PA Preferred™, the official state branding program used to identify locally-sourced agricultural products made and grown in Pennsylvania, worked with HBH to combine the PA Preferred and HBH logos to give the state’s farmer veterans the point of sale visibility needed to be successful in the marketplace. The label provides the consumer with a tangible way to support veterans and an avenue to share their stories.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the New Farmers of America (NFA) merging with FFA, Dr. Baggett was recently asked to speak and to sing the NFA Boys Song at the 88th National FFA Convention in Louisville. The NFA, a national organization for African-American agriculture students, was founded in 1935 in Tuskegee, Alabama. In 1965, the organization merged with FFA. Dr. Baggett is a former member of the NFA and is currently an associate professor of agricultural extension education in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, visit

Despite setbacks, Ryan Frye continues to live his dream working on his family dairy farm in Blairsville, Pa.

Ryan Frye utility vechicle

Ryan Frye holding his wheelchair on his utility vehicle.

Ryan Frye was like most graduating high school students in 2005 – excited and ready to start the next chapter in his life. The Blairsville, Pa. native was looking forward to full-time work on his family’s dairy farm, started by his grandfather in 1978. The farm also grows small grains for cattle feed. The family dairy business was something that had encompassed Ryan’s whole life.

“I grew up on the farm. It’s always been a passion of mine, something I love,” said Ryan.

But a year later, in May 2006, Ryan experienced an unfortunate setback. While riding an ATV recreationally in an unfamiliar area, Ryan rode over a 35-ft. embankment. When he hit the bottom, the 600-pound vehicle came down on his back.

The incident resulted in a compression fracture at T12, and broke one of his metacarpals in his left hand. The T12 vertebra is located in middle of the back and sits just above the lumbar. Ryan underwent surgeries to repair the bone in his hand, and a back fusion surgery to fuse his spine from T9 to L2.

After back surgery, Ryan initially had the ability to move his legs and was working on strengthening. But another setback occurred within the first few weeks of recovery when the hematoma in his spine (from the original impact of the accident) started to bleed, damaging the nerves in his spinal cord. He lost all feeling from the waist down. Ryan spent the next several months undergoing rehabilitation, learning how to move with the aid of a wheelchair and how to move forward with his disability.

Tractor hand controls

Ryan’s tractor with hand controls.

A few years passed, but Ryan was not idle. In 2007, he started creating his own hand controls for the tractors and utility vehicles, and made adjustments to his work around the farm. He was able to operate equipment and tend to some basic tasks. In 2012, Ryan was able to purchase the neighboring farm that borders his family’s property, which was a bright spot in working towards his future.

In 2014, Ryan was connected with PA’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), which is part of the PA Department of Labor and Industry. OVR provides vocational rehabilitation services to help people with disabilities. An OVR farm coordinator visited Ryan on the farm, and recommended a partnership with a program affiliated with Penn State University: AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians. Ryan was thrilled to learn that there was assistance available to help him access services and assistive technology specially needed to allow him to remain in farming.

In the summer of 2015, Ryan met with Abbie Spackman, AgrAbility Project Coordinator, who performed a farm assessment and talked with him about his obstacles on the farm. The biggest hurdle was Ryan’s access on the farm: getting into the tractors and traveling across the 800-acre farm. Ryan had been hoisting himself up to get into the tractors – a major safety concern and it was impacting his upper body, mainly his shoulders. He also needed a more durable wheelchair for use in the milking parlor and a lift to put his wheelchair into his utility vehicle.

The answer came in the form of a few pieces of equipment from OVR that Ryan will be receiving soon, like a flat-bed truck lift. It is a crane-type piece of equipment that sits in the corner of a truck bed and articulates around to allow access to the truck door, bed, and back to a trailer and hitch-receiver. Ryan will be able to transfer directly across to a tractor seat using a wireless remote.

“It is going to do numerous things, not just access to the tractors, but it will also pick my wheelchair up and stow it in the bed,” said Ryan.

Ryan will also receive an action trackchair, which is a power wheelchair on rubber tracks to give him access inside and outside of the barns given that the terrain around the farm is rough. The chair also raises to a standing position. A wheelchair lift for Ryan’s utility vehicle will also give him more access to areas of the farm and allow for safer travel. He expects to have the equipment in place by late winter.

Ryan couldn’t be more grateful to the AgrAbilty for Pennsylvanians Project and OVR for helping him with access to these resources. Truth be told, the 28-year old can’t imagine his life if he were not working on the farm.

“It’s in my blood. It’s where I’m going to stay.”

*Editor’s note: We look forward to sharing an update on Ryan in the Spring 2016 with his new equipment!

Disability Awareness Day raises awareness for inclusion and equality in the workplace

AgrAbility display at Disability Awareness Day

AgrAbility display at Disability Awareness Day, Oct. 20, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Disability Awareness Day photo Kendra Abbie

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians was represented by Abbie Spackman (left), Project Coordinator, and Kendra Martin (right), Outreach Coordinator.

Dozens of statewide organization, non-profits, and departments gathered in the Harrisburg, PA, at the Main Capitol Rotunda on October 20, 2015 to participate in a Disability Awareness Day, organized by Pennsylvania State Senator Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila). Participants interacted with Pennsylvania lawmakers and staff to raise awareness for inclusion and equality in the workplace for individuals with disabilities.

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians was represented by Abbie Spackman, Project Coordinator, and Kendra Martin, Outreach Coordinator. They had opportunities to talk one-on-one with legislators about how the project helps Pennsylvania farmers remain in production agriculture despite a disability or long-term health condition.

Senator Tartaglione also won unanimous approval of a resolution making October “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania. “We acknowledge those individuals who have overcome challenges to fulfill their career ambitions,” said Senator Tartaglione.

During the event, lawmakers could experience and learn about life as a person with a disability. Representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry – Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, PA Statewide Independent Living Council, PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Susquehanna Service Dogs, Self Determination Housing Project of Pennsylvania, UniqueSource, and United Cerebral Palsy of Central Pennsylvania helped to drive home an important message.

“They are an example of the hundreds of support organizations across Pennsylvania that every day, help to make employment possible for people with disabilities and possible is the word to remember what is necessary and good,” said Senator Tartaglione. “We must encourage Pennsylvania’s labor force and its industries to create better strategies to work together in hiring, training, and retaining our friends, neighbors, and loved ones with disabilities.”