AgrAbility finds good neighbor in local rancher/school teacher
Agriculture in today's world is a complicated business. It requires participants in production, marketing, regulation, education and support to constantly be aware of the influence of global markets, climate and weather, land and natural resource use issues, government initiatives and regulations, and the influence of larger society on consumer preference.
These are key components which influence the capital that maintains agriculture as a business and fundamental economic player. However, these influences do not drive agriculture alone. Equally important to the survival of American agriculture is the culture of agriculture itself. This culture is characterized by the pride, independence, generosity, social responsibility and stewardship of the people who live and love agriculture. This compels individuals within this culture to willingly provide a hand up not a hand out and maintains the "we can do" spirit that makes agriculture a fundamentally cooperative rather than cut-throat enterprise.
AgrAbility of Utah recognizes these inherent strengths as some of the most important in successfully achieving the program's mission to promote agriculture as a way of life for the thousands of farmers and ranchers with disabilities in the state. This is the key component of the program's 'Good Neighbor Initiative' which the program is heavily promoting in 2010.
The 'Good Neighbor Initiative' relies on the willingness of farmers and ranchers to support one another. In times of hardship, farmers and ranchers can offer understanding and encouragement to their neighbors as well as the courage to seek out assistance when needed. A critical component of this initiative is the utilization of volunteer and professional staff as well as allied professionals to provide support at a local level throughout the state. AgrAbility's volunteer staff are called Rural Advocates. Rural advocates are individuals who are dedicated to taking the lead in their communities by ensuring their neighbors receive the support needed to remain in production agriculture despite health problems, disability, injury and isolation.
The notion for rural advocacy for farmers by farmers in Utah has been largely influenced by Gerald Anderson of Price. Gerald is a lifelong agriculturalist and school teacher and has been involved in the AgrAbility project for nearly seven years. Anderson became involved when he met John Mussler, AgrAbility's program manager at the annual Farm Bureau Convention in 2003. Upon learning about the project and allowing AgrAbility staff to assess his farm, it was determined that simple modifications could be made to Anderson's tractor which would enable him to safely mount and dismount. Limitations associated with post-polio syndrome had resulted in Anderson needing to mount the tractor from behind climbing over the PTO and into the cab.
"Sometimes these farmers, like me, don't need a whole lot done to help them," Anderson said. Most farmers don't want to say that they can't do it. That's how it is in farming. But it's OK to get help."
"Just knowing he had those steps in place has really given me piece of mind, to know he's OK," said Joy Anderson, Gerald's wife.
These modifications enabled Anderson to use this piece of essential equipment safely. However, Anderson has contributed more to the project than he ever received, by spending numerous hours informing and linking farmers and ranchers in Eastern Utah to the AgrAbility program and providing information and education to individuals who work in agricultural related businesses.
"It's a little hard to find people that want to admit that they need help because no one likes to feel like they're being singled-out," Anderson said. "But I know what [AgrAbility] has done for me and I know what it can do for others."
Anderson was diagnosed with polio as a very young child, and at the time was the youngest child ever admitted for treatment at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. He worked for many years as a teacher at Carbon High School in Price, teaching drafting and engineering classes. Above all though, Anderson can enchant a listener with countless stories related to his growing up and living in agriculture.
Currently Anderson runs several head of belted Galloway cattle. This Scottish breed has a unique appearance of being black, red or dun (a gray-gold or tan color) with a white "belt" or stripe around the saddle and abdomen. They are sometimes affectionately referred to as "Oreo cows" because of the striped colors.
Anderson got into the breed of cattle as a project with his daughter when she was in junior high. Gerald used the project to teach his daughter about the responsibility involved in agriculture, working with her to get her own loan through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and to care for the cows.
The Galloway's are a niche market of cattle, which are preferred by some because of its lean quality of beef. The breed grows a little smaller than most, but is especially suited for its native rainy Scotland because of its two layers of hair - one for insulation and one for repelling the rain. The cattle are also suited for grazing on rough, coarse forage that most other breeds for stay away from.
Stronger than Anderson's fondness for his Galloway cattle is his desire to work with others in agriculture to make sure they know of the opportunities that are available to them, to help them continue to do the things they love. Anderson uses his connection to both agriculture and AgrAbility to get past some obstacles that others might have.
"I can relate to people with disabilities. I like to visit with them on the phone and make personal visits as well, to show them that I understand how AgrAbility can help," Anderson said.
Gerald personifies the American farmer - the original good neighbor - through his generous spirit, work ethic, dedication to community and the commitment to the perseverance of the agricultural way of life. Undoubtedly as time moves forward and the world continues to change and grow, American agriculture will continue to grow and to change with it. However, the principles which characterize Gerald and the past, present and future generations of American farmers will persevere to ensure the continuation of the essential goodness and strength of the culture of farming and ranching.
This article was written by Jennifer Hobby, AgrAbility Program Coordinator and Matt Hargreaves, Utah Farm Bureau.