Field tilled

A field off Chuckanut Drive is tilled in May 2017.

The Washington State University Skagit County Extension will lead a statewide program to help keep farmers and farmworkers working, and get them back to work following sickness or injury.

The program, called Washington AgrAbility, focuses on helping farmers access assistive technology so they can continue to farm, said extension Director Don McMoran.

A workshop titled “Using Assistive Technology for Working Farmers” will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Friday at the extension offices, 11768 Westar Lane, Suite A, in Burlington. The workshop is free and open to the public.

“We have an aging farmer population and younger generations that aren’t interested in farming, so that leaves us with about 21 million farmers short in the next generation,” McMoran said. “(The U.S. Department of Agriculture) has figured we need to keep our current farmers farming for as long as possible.”

A $722,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will fund the program for four years. The extension has hired an AgrAbility coordinator to oversee the program.

Those who can use the program include farmers or agricultural workers experiencing, but not limited to, arthritis, spinal cord injury or paralysis, back pain, amputations, head and brain injury, visual and hearing impairments, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health concerns, respiratory issues, or heart conditions and stroke, according to the extension.

McMoran said the extension will provide program participants with a free home assessment to determine their needs and will work with the Washington Assistive Technology Act Program to provide tools.

Participants will be able to borrow tools from the organization’s lending library, and will be able to purchase them if they are the right fit.

“If they can’t afford (the tools), we work with the Northwest Access Fund and provide low- or no-interest loans for participants to get the technology,” McMoran said.

He said the National AgrAbility Project has thousands of recommendations for assistive tools and technologies for farmers and agricultural workers.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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