National AgrAbility conference showcases opportunities for farmers and ranchers despite health drawbacks or disabilities
April 19, 2016
Amberley Snyder finds ways to make things work. Using duct tape is one of her go-to solutions.
But it can't fix everything. That's what AgrAbility is for.
AgrAbility helps those in the agriculture industry with disabilities still be able to work. They help with all sorts of things ranging from arthritis to back impairments to mental disabilities.
Snyder was the keynote speaker at dinner April 13 at AgrAbility's 25th annual National Training Workshop in Fort Collins. She grew up riding horses and competing in a number of competitions as she grew up.
“This wheelchair is not ideal, but I’ve had experiences and opportunities that I wouldn’t of had without this chair.”
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Then summer 2009 happened.
Snyder was traveling from Utah to Denver when her truck flipped after she took a second to glance at her map. She was thrown from her truck in Wyoming and lost all feeling in her legs.
When she was asked her goals in therapy, she had her mind set on three things.
"Walk, ride, rodeo," Snyder said.
She was told it wouldn't happen, but eventually she started to ride again.
Then, a little later, she started to compete in rodeo events again.
Two months ago, Snyder won her first belt buckle since her accident.
"I've pushed myself to limits I didn't know I had," she said.
But Snyder wasn't alone during her recovery. She's still in a wheelchair, but she's had plenty of help and support to get her riding and competing again. That's the type of service AgrAbility provides.
It helps people already in agriculture or just starting their journey.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam works as the department's Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison and also spoke at the AgrAbility conference April 13.
Baccam is a veteran, and one project he's working on is called Hiring Our Heroes. It's a program the helps veterans, service members and spouses find employment after deployment, which can be difficult with the emotional and physical trauma military men and women can suffer.
There were already programs set up for this, but until Baccam's involvement, there was one major industry missing — agriculture.
Baccam said finding employment and careers for veterans post-service is part of the solution for a problem facing agriculture.
"There's need for new and beginning farmers," Baccam said. "We believe veterans are part of that solution."
Baccam said with the number of visible and invisible disabilities, the relationship with veterans and AgrAbility allows for those who may need assistance to get it.
But the first step of action, Baccam said, is to get veterans interested and knowledgeable about careers in agriculture.
Temple Grandin has a solution for that.
Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University and was the opening keynote speaker at the conference April 12.
She was diagnosed with autism as a child, but found her way in the world through agriculture. In her talk, Grandin addressed her feelings toward the lack of trade classes in middle and high schools.
"It's absolutely the worst," she told the crowd of about 130. About 220 people attended the conference in total, according to organizers.
It was through trade classes and working on her aunt's farm at an early age that Grandin was exposed to a career that she enjoyed, making it possible for her to work and make a career for herself.
She said a problem she sees today is the focus on the label "autism" without looking at a way to utilize the ways those on the autism spectrum think.
"We've got to keep in mind what the kid can do, what the adult can do," Grandin said.
But it's more than just knowing what people can do.
Grandin said the bigger picture of the future and world should be considered before parents try to overprotect their children because they were diagnosed with autism.
"We've gotta start thinking about the outcomes," she said. "Get kids interested in agriculture by exposing them."
And upping the exposure of AgrAbility can help those in agriculture who need it.
"This wheelchair is not ideal, but I've had experiences and opportunities that I wouldn't of had without this chair," Snyder said.
That's what AgrAbility does. It provides the tools to help people live and experience things and keeps them from having to do without because of a disability.
There was a live and silent auction April 13, which raised more than $10,000 — well over the $7,500 goal, said Kylie Hendress, event coordinator.
The money raised will go to stipends for AgrAbility farmer clients help pay for registration and hotel costs for the next conference. ❖