UMaine Program Helps Farmers With Disabilities

Joy Hollowell

Updated 4 months ago

Farming is a physically demanding job, which can be daunting when you have physical limitations.

A program through UMaine Cooperative Extension is changing all that.

Joy Hollowell tells us more.

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“In 2010, I started having problems with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety, where I found that I was not choosing to leave my house as much as I should.”

Che Sweetland acquired some chickens as a therapeutic tool.

“To make it so I had to leave my house once a day to take care of the chickens,” she explains. “And when I realized that my body and my emotions really liked the farming lifestyle, I ended up getting some goats.”

Sweetland now has a dozen goats at her farm in Winterport.

She uses their milk to make about a dozen different specialty soaps. It’s a life Sweetland never pictured for herself.

“I had years of childhood abuse, pretty much until I was 22,” she says. “I was in a very, very abusive relationship with a family member. And it makes it so that people were very threatening to me, new people especially. But even people I’m familiar with, can sometimes be a little bit challenging.”

Animals though, have the opposite effect.

“Coming out and being with my animals helps to center me, especially when I’m having a bad day,” says Sweetland. “I’ll be feeling very anxious and really revved up, and I can come out here, and just have the animals around me and interacting with me, I can put my attention on them instead of the emotion and anxiety that’s happening inside my body.”

But farming can take its toll on a body.

“I have some back and neck problems with some muscle spasms. When I’m anxious, and tense, that is exacerbated because my whole body will tighten up.”

Sweetland turned to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for help.

“Maine Agrability is a state-wide program that helps farmers with disabilities or chronic illnesses keeping farming,” explains Richard Brzozowski, an agriculture extension educator.

It started four years ago through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The idea is to provide those in agriculture as well as future farmers with informational tools. The program is also available to veterans and will soon be reaching out to those in the aquaculture and logging industries.

“You don’t look at the disability part,” explains Brzozowski, “you think of what they can do, the ability part.”

“They paid attention to what things were working really well for me and how to expand those things more to make it so that more of my day was working for me,” adds Sweetland.

Sweetland worked with UMaine Cooperative Extension as well as Wanda Caron with Alpha One. Among other things, Sweetland adjusted her milking station to make it ergonomically correct, and installed a video camera to take away some of her anxiety about the animal’s safety and well-being when she wasn’t around.

“My quality of life prior to the goat farm was dismal,” says Sweetland. “I was barely a functional adult. Today, I have happy days. I have days where I can just be a person and I look forward to the future, which I never did before.”

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If you’d like more information on the Maine Agrability program, call 800-287-1471 or log onto http://umaine.edu/agrability/

To order goat milk soap, you can log onto www.gentlemeadowgoatfarm.com or call 223-5115. They’re also on Facebook.


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