Todd Zimmerman knows all about the benefits of working with an occupational therapist (OT) to ease his pain and better his workflow around the farm. He had the opportunity through AgrAbility PA and the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) to receive on-farm visits from a licensed OT practitioner in 2008 and 2016.
On the surface, the story is a familiar one: Farmer has work to attend to on the farm, but experiences pain and discomfort due to a disability or long-term health condition. In Todd’s case, a back injury in 1991 coupled with degenerative disc disease that has taken its toll on his spine over the years.
Todd owns a dairy goat farm, Four Zimm Dairy Plus, in Union County, selling raw milk and making homemade goat milk soap with essential oils. He first contacted AgrAbility PA in 2008, which initiated a visit from an AgrAbility staff member to provide a farm assessment and recommendations. Todd also received a visit from Dwight Heller, a licensed OT specialist, and representatives from OVR. This team walked with Todd – step by step – through his daily activities on the farm. Dwight was able to make suggestions along the way to improve the function and flow of Todd’s workday – from feeding to cleaning and everything in between.
“Dwight has an agricultural background – having grown up on a farm – but he is very good at what he does now. He can come up with ideas to help in the short term, as well as considerations for down the road,” Todd said.
For example, using a milking stand. Dwight worked with Todd to adjust the set-up, depending on whether or not he was using a walker to aid in his mobility. Dwight also suggested changes to the feeding process. Todd had to break down 50 lbs. bags into 5-gallon buckets in order to carry them. Similarly, forking manure was a significant strain on his back.
OVR was able to assist with the cost of improving the workflow around Todd’s farm. First, with the purchase of a 3-ton bulk feed bin. Feed is blown into the bulk bin monthly and then an auger draws it down for Todd to distribute. Secondly, by concreting the barn floors, Todd can use his tractor to move manure. He also received a composter. These improvements have drastically eased the strain on Todd’s body.
In 2016, Dwight visited again to review Todd’s workflow and to offer suggestions on the soap making process. Todd was using an old table to handle and label the soaps prior to distribution, causing him strain and pain. Dwight suggested a Varidesk – an adjustable-height standing desk that allows you to switch between standing and sitting while working. OVR was able to assist with the purchase of a desk.
Todd is grateful for the support to continue farming, thanks to AgrAbility PA and OVR. The time spent with Dwight has truly made a lasting impact on his daily work.
“If anyone is on the fence about contacting AgrAbility PA, I’d tell them to go ahead. It needs to be done to ensure you will be able to do the work you love,” Todd said.
* Todd’s story appeared in Field Notes, AgrAbility PA’s printed newsletter. Contact us to be added to our mailing list.
About AgrAbility PA
AgrAbility PA assists farmers and agricultural workers with disabilities or long-term health conditions by linking them to potential resources and by providing support they need to live independently and continue working in or return to production agriculture.
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). Learn more about AgrAbility PA by visiting http://www.AgrAbilityPA.org, calling (814) 867-5288, emailing AgrAbility@psu.edu, or searching @AgrAbilityPA on social media.