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Good Earth Farms A chronic illness did not stop this farmer from continuing his work

Good Earth Farms

Michael Hansen, who owns and operates a farm in central Wisconsin where he raises organic meats, has Degenerative Disc Disease and Spinal Stenosis. The conditions, which worsened significantly in 2006, cause severe back pain and have made many of the everyday tasks his operation requires difficult, painful or impossible to do. Doctors gave him a 25 pound lifting restriction and he cannot stand or sit in one place for any appreciable length of time or sustain jarring (as would be experienced on a tractor).“It took me a long time to admit and accept that I have a disability,” Michael says. “Everyday chores were becoming a real problem.”

Michael was determined to stay in farming if at all possible, and after hearing about the Easter Seals FARM Program through the Marshfield Farm Medicine Center, he contacted the agency to see if they could offer any advice that might make his daily chores manageable.

Jeff Kratochwill, the Lead Rural Rehabilitation Specialist for the FARM Program, contacted Michael and together they walked through a day on the farm, analyzing each task. Michael prepares and ships organic meat to customers all over the country. When full, the boxes can weigh 70 pounds, greatly exceeding Michael’s 25 pound lifting restriction. Jeff recommended using smaller boxes, bringing the weight of each into the acceptable range and installing a hydraulic lift cart along with a conveyor system that would reduce the strain on Michael’s back even further.

The tractor Michael was using presented a number of difficulties. Not only was the amount of jarring Michael experienced when operating it significant, the small operator’s station and the clutching and shifting mechanisms added to the stress on his back. To address these concerns, Jeff suggested a different tractor. The recommended model had a swiveling seat with impact-absorbing suspension, making it possible for Michael to monitor equipment being pulled without twisting his body in a way that aggravated his back. The more easily reached shifting and clutching mechanisms further reduced the strain on Michael’s back.

Jeff also suggested an automatic hitching device so that Michael could hitch and unhitch his equipment without having to climb on and off the tractor and perform the bending and lifting involved in the task. Jeff also offered advice on doing some chores in a slightly different manner and for making some smaller modifications to equipment. After the recommendations were approved by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, modifications were made and equipment purchased.

“I’m still learning to use, make or adapt tools and technology so that I can get the work done,” says Michael. “Without the help and advice I got from the FARM Program, I wouldn’t be functioning at the level I am today. I’m very grateful to Easter Seals and the folks at DVR for helping me to stay on the farm and keeping my dream alive. ”