Maine farmers produce and grow an impressive variety of agricultural products. Maine’s 8,136 family farms encompass more than 1.35 million acres of land (2007 Census of Agriculture). The average farm size in Maine is 166 acres, and farm gate receipts exceed $617 million annually, with a total economic value of over $1.2 billion. With a relatively large geographic area (33,215 square miles) and a comparatively small population (1,316,000), Maine’s agricultural economy contains a rich mixture of wholesale and retail type farm operations. Maintaining a diverse and vital agricultural sector is essential to the overall health of the Maine economy as well as to the rural character and culture of Maine.
Growing rates of physical disability as well as the aging trends in the Maine farm population will take a significant toll on agricultural occupations. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, nearly 30,000 individuals across the state of the Maine are engaged in some aspect of agricultural production. The disability statistics found in the most recent US census report, state that 19% of Maine’s population report having a disability. Therefore, the estimated number of farmers and farm workers in Maine with a disability is approximately 5,700 individuals. While vocational rehabilitation services exist (agencies such as Maine Vocational and Rehabilitation Services and other non profits), these agency professionals typically are not familiar with the physical challenges of farming and are not well equipped to accommodate those in the agricultural sector. Similarly, agricultural professionals in Maine such as Extension personnel are not familiar with the National AgrAbility Project or its resources. They typically don’t know how to effectively assist or accommodate farm workers with disabilities.
A Maine AgrAbility Project would significantly increase the capacity of rehabilitation, health and agricultural professionals to provide assistance and services for farmers and farm workers with disabilities. The goals for this proposed four-year project include:
- Maine farmers with disabilities will achieve enhanced ability to farm and live independently and improve their quality of life. The project would provide farmers with disabilities consultative services and technical assistance that would increase the likelihood that farmers could continue to farm successfully; such as, modifying or adapting the agricultural operation, buildings, equipment, and/or tools.
- Maine AgrAbility Customers will enhance their economic viability and sustainability.
- Rural agriculture, rehabilitation, and health care professionals will integrate support for AgrAbility into their work and enhance their knowledge and service capacity in supporting Maine farmers/families with disabilities to live and work more productively by accommodating disabilities and preventing secondary injuries.
- The program capacity will expand through networking activities of mutually sharing information and resources with non AgrAbility individuals and organizations to establish and grow an effective statewide AgrAbility project.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has partnered with Alpha One in reaching these goals. This partnership, along with collaborating state agencies, are well positioned to develop and carry out a dynamic AgrAbility Program in Maine and to support farmers, farm family members and farm workers with disabilities to maintain independent living, an enhanced quality of life and farm financial sustainability.