David Marquez, a 100-percent disabled Army Veteran, recently attended one of the Colorado AgrAbility Project’s (CAP) online workshops, Veterans in Agriculture, interested in finding out how CAP might assist him. CAP is a coalition of national, regional and state AgrAbility projects; a land grant University (in Colorado, it’s CSU) and a nonprofit whose mission focuses on serving individuals with disabilities—Goodwill of Colorado, in this case. CAP’s mission is to enhance the lives of farmers and ranchers who have a disability. After the workshop, David contacted an AgrAbility team member and arranged a visit to his ranch in Chama, Colorado, located in the San Luis Valley. The area was so remote that the nearest town was 60 miles away.
Approaching the ranch, the AgrAbility team noted what appeared to be an older farmstead comprised of several wood frame outbuildings, corrals, and pens in poor repair. There were also pasture areas with an estimated 100 head of beef. Not only was Dave a fulltime rancher operating a cow/calf business, he was a multi-generational rancher, as his 660 acres of range land had been homesteaded by his family in the mid-1800s.
As a disabled rancher, Dave faced a variety of issues that were made more challenging by his status as a person with a disability: maintaining perimeter fence repair, outbuilding repairs, creek maintenance, pasture maintenance, livestock processing, propagation of hay crops, and irrigation. His cattle handling was antiquated and done largely as it had been in the last century, with wood stringer fenced corrals, wood catch pens, and wood alleys. His cattle processing was also done manually meaning he had to manhandle, rope, and sometimes wrestle the animals. This proved difficult for Dave due to his low stamina, compromised strength and poor balance. It can also be dangerous to both man and animal.
A grant from the Colorado Department of Military and Veteran Affairs (DMVA) permitted AgrAbility to purchase up to $5,000 in Assistive Technology for Dave. Working with him to prioritize his needs, the team agreed that a modern cattle handling system would be of most benefit and used the DMVA grant to acquire a new automatic chute system for him.
Dave also needed a new tractor to help maintain the ranch. The one he had was an early 1960’s model with no auto nor hydraulic transmission, no power steering, and high steps to mount. For Dave, operating the tractor proved both difficult and dangerous. . The AgrAbility team contacted several tractor dealers and determined that a replacement tractor was necessary. AgrAbility was able to work with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to secure Dave a new tractor, and he is once again able to ranch with reduced pain, and with greater safety and efficiency.
“I didn’t know such a service was available,” said Dave. “When my tractor broke, I thought well, this is going to get tough. All I can do is try to borrow a tractor from a friend, but they need theirs as much as I need mine. My farm is in the sixth generation and I feared that it will be lost on my watch. Then Jim came out and spent hours walking and talking with me and saw what my needs were. Then he went to work to find resources. I couldn’t farm without Goodwill AgrAbility.”
The Colorado AgrAbility Project (CAP) is a partnership between Colorado State University Extension and Goodwill of Colorado. The program is funded in part by a grant from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) that requires CAP to provide direct services, education, marketing, and networking. This unique collaboration promotes independence in production agriculture by helping workers find the help they need to begin, remain, or regain employment on their farm or ranch.
Thanks to the Colorado AgrAbility program, Colorado farmers and ranchers engaged in production agriculture are able to continue working, despite a long-term illness, permanent injury, aging issues or other physical challenges.