As the Lead Consultant on JAN’s self-employment team, I’m often fielding questions from individuals with disabilities interested in starting a business in agriculture. These types of businesses include a diverse range such as organic vegetable farms, egg producers, herb and flower growers, livestock/ranch businesses, fish production, fruit farms, Christmas tree growers, equine therapy, and sheep/wool producers. We have even received questions about farm tourism where guests vacation at a family farm to experience life there. Often, accommodation issues come into play in the planning of these businesses.
We are fortunate at JAN to have an individual who has years of experience as a JAN consultant and manager, an academic and researcher, and mostly importantly, a farmer. We are not sure how she does it all, but felt it was about time to have her share her vast expertise with JAN’s agricultural entrepreneurs.
Can you describe a bit about your academic background and your role at JAN?
I’ve worked for JAN since 1996. In this capacity, I am a Principal Consultant. I have a Ph.D. in resource economics from West Virginia University. I have master’s degrees in industrial relations, safety management, and resource economics. I am a member of RESNA and the HTML Writers Guild and hold certificates in Grantsmanship, Web Technologies, and Web Graphics/Multimedia. I am a member of JAN’s management team and travel nationally to speak about disability issues.
You own and manage a family farm in Hampshire County, WV. Can you tell us about the history of the farm, your family’s role in its development, and how it’s grown and changed over the years?
Loy’s Farm was established in 1852 in Hampshire, VA. Following the Civil War it became Hampshire County, WV. The original tract was 180 acres, and now it’s expanded to a compound that covers a total of 225 acres. It contains three cabins, two houses, four barns, and a shop. Over the years, it has housed chickens, cattle, hogs, and goats. Apples, eggs, vegetables, grains, and hay were readily produced on the farm.
Currently, the farm focuses on raising Angus cattle and Savanna goats while producing hay. It isn’t a factory farm, but it has benefited from some of the same tools. Modernizations of the farm continue to be implemented with the help of tablets, software, tractors, security systems, and smartphones. For example, programming reminders for vaccinations, planting seasons, and breeding improve preciseness and time management.
At JAN, we have individuals with disabilities who contact us interested in starting, managing, or expanding an agricultural business. While there are many different types of farming (e.g., organic vegetables, livestock, or trees), what are the five most important tips you would pass on to anyone considering a farm business?
#1. Develop a business plan with advice from farmers in similar businesses and a financial planner from your funding institution. Be sure to do your research.
#2. Cater to your demographics. Know the wants of your region and build your business locally first.
#3. Understand the role of social media, especially having a domain name, Twitter account, and Facebook page, in expanding your business and selling your goods within and outside of your traditional farming markets.
#4. Invest in infrastructure and equipment that will assist you with farming in all types of weather.
#5. Prioritize your relationships with other, more seasoned farmers so that you can learn from their successes and mistakes.
You have extensive experience providing accommodation information to JAN customers with diverse disabilities in a variety of work settings, as well as to having hands-on experience managing and operating a family farm. While each individual accommodation is unique to that person and the job task, can you describe some examples of accommodations that you’re likely to encounter in a farming environment?
When it comes to farming, there are a variety of tasks that are very dangerous. Anytime people are working around animals and machinery, accidents can happen in very tight quarters. And, it’s often true that farmers tend to be older and have various abilities because of the type of work they’ve done for their entire lives.
On the farm, I built a livestock handling system designed from the works of Temple Grandin. The pen is used to gather livestock. It is designed with curves instead of corners. It takes advantage of the natural circling tendencies of livestock that travels in herds. It limits the stress on animals and improves the safety of handlers. But, it was also designed to accommodate me.
About a year and six months ago I began the process of having my feet reconstructed. I was born with extra bones in my feet that started giving me significant problems in my forties. As the bones grew, my tendons became weak and had to be replaced or repaired and the bones had to be removed. It will take two years of rehabilitation and recovery for each foot to recover.
In order to work the livestock and accommodate me, the handling system was designed to keep animals weighing up to 2,000 pounds away from my feet and to help them remain calm. So, I used the ideas of Temple Grandin and my accommodation knowledge to design a corral that individuals with all abilities can safely use. It has multiple safety mechanisms using gates and safety latches, a solid chute, a waist height working area, two uniform colors, automatic catch head gate, a working alley that reaches to the ground, and a sweeping system that separates the handlers from the livestock.
Other farming-related accommodations that I’ve seen or used are: all-terrain vehicles, smart hitches, winches, platform and chair lifts, added steps, grab bars, long-handled tools, powered tools, tool balancers, creepers, ergonomic tools, equipment with both foot and hand controls, backup cameras, and lifting devices. We’ve even designed a few devices to access water, feed, and bottle-feeding more easily.
Assistive technologies (AT) are often characterized as low tech versus high tech. Can you share an example of a low tech and a high tech accommodation in a farm setting?
Low Tech Accommodation
When we have baby goats on the farm, we often put them with their moms in a 4’ X 4’ pen. We then feed and water them separately from the herd to help built their strength. We call this the maternity ward, and we have to carry them water when they are in the ward. We use a stainless steel can on the end of a 1” X 2” slat to dip water out of the water troughs used by goats in the field. You see, this water is heated in the winter so we don’t have to worry about the water freezing.
Anyone, regardless of mobility, can access the water troughs used by the goats without being in their larger pen. We place the slat over the fence and we can dip the water right out of the trough and empty it into a bucket without touching a goat or the water. The total cost of the accommodation was $0. We found a bolt, tap, and washer that wasn’t being used. The slat was left over from another project, and the large stainless steel can came from a local restaurant. The can is food-grade and can be sanitized.
High Tech Accommodation
One high tech accommodation that we implemented is a 3-point hydraulic bale unroller. This device grasps a 2,000 pound round hay bale in the center of both sides. Then, the user drops the bale to the ground using a hydraulic cylinder control from inside a tractor. The friction between the bale and the ground unrolls the hay. No lifting, pushing, pulling, or pitchfork is required, and the device cuts down on waste. The cost of an unroller ranges, but the one on the farm was around $1,000.
When we think about accommodations in farming, we’re more likely to think of modifications related to mobility impairments (e.g., back injuries) as opposed to cognitive/neurological impairments (e.g., depression). Yet, one of the areas where farming has expanded are projects in agriculture targeting veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Can you talk about why you think the connection between veterans with PTSD and agricultural careers has been an important one?
Veterans are usually very natural farmers. They are often hands-on learners who enjoy physical work and have excellent mechanical skills. Farming engages every part of the human body because of the physical and mental connection a farmer must have to the livestock or the crops produced. Farming is a way for veterans to be a part something where they are an integral part of a team and a community where others depend on them.
Surprisingly enough, farmers and veterans already have a lot in common. They both want meaningful employment, enjoy working outdoors, believe in restoration, and want to provide others a service. It is a career that will last a lifetime.
Finally, more women than ever have taken on primary roles in agricultural businesses. What changes have you seen over your lifetime from growing up on a multi-generational family farm to being the woman in charge of the operation?
Well, when it comes to being taken seriously, farming still isn’t an easy prospect for women. But, once you prove yourself, it’s like any other career. Your work speaks for itself. I’ve had a lot of farmers ask about the livestock handling device, as they are interested in accommodating themselves now that they are aging. When something comes natural to you, you have to believe in yourself and your decisions. There are no mistakes, there are just teachable moments.
1. Learn more about Dr. Loy and her farm
Farm Credit of the Virginias
Feature – Women in Agriculture
Back to the Farm
Back in Business
2. National AgrAbility Project
Breaking New Ground Resource Center
ABE Bldg., 225 South University Street
West Lafayette IN 47907-2093
Veterans & Beginning Farmers: “The vision of AgrAbility is to enhance quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities, so that they, their families, and their communities continue to succeed in rural America. For this target audience, ‘success’ may be defined by many parameters, including: gainful employment in production agriculture or a related occupation; access to appropriate assistive technology needed for work and daily living activities; evidence-based information related to the treatment and rehabilitation of disabling conditions; and targeted support for family caregivers of AgrAbility customers. AgrAbility addresses a wide variety of disabling conditions in agriculture, including, but not limited to: arthritis, spinal cord injuries/paralysis, back impairments, amputations, brain injury, visual impairments, hearing impairments, disabling diseases, cerebral palsy, respiratory impairments, and head injury.”