Montana woman helps disabled agriculturalists

Farming and ranching are near the top of the list of dangerous jobs with more than 100 injuries reported each year. Reported statistics and stories sometimes make news, but following initial coverage, the story vanishes and the injured party is forgotten by all but close family and friends. Often medical professionals aren’t trained in rehabilitation from an ag injury, and what the injury of handicap means for that person.

During the Montana Agri-Women’s Annual Conference February 11-12 in Huntley, Kendra Joyce spoke about her business Cutting Fences. Joyce related that while she was working on her doctorate in occupational therapy, she didn’t have any professor who knew about agriculture or understood how injuries can impede a farmer or rancher.

The program had a class that aimed to cover rural and agricultural lifestyle and culture but did not have someone who grew up in agricultural teaching the class. The professor who was teaching at the time asked Joyce to complete a guest lecture to her classmates about agriculture. Joyce, wanting to spice up her presentation, began to reach out to friends who were currently agricultural producers. To Joyce’s surprise within just 10 minutes of reaching out, she had gained the contacts of three individuals farming and ranching from the seat of a power wheelchair. This was the beginning of her journey and the turning point of pursuing a passion she didn’t know she would have—occupational therapy in agriculture.

“The more research I did, the more I discovered about injuries in agriculture,” Joyce explained. “I conducted an informal survey and found that 88 percent of the people who responded knew one person who had had an agricultural-related accident and more than 16 percent knew of more than one person who had had an accident.”

Despite other states having programs to serve this population, Montana did not have a program specifically serving farmers and ranchers, and no occupational therapists doing so despite the profession being the perfect fit to create function and quality of life for the farming and ranching community with disabilities.

The creative young woman started Cutting Fences to “cultivate connections, support, advocacy and compassion for all individuals in agriculture who have sustained injuries, accidents or have disabilities.”

Since August she has reached out to audiences with her weekly podcasts. Interviewees are farmers and ranchers who are living the agricultural life despite a disability.

“As an occupational therapy student, I recognize the power of living a purposeful lifestyle and have grown up appreciating the agricultural lifestyle’s purpose,” Joyce said. “My podcast aims to advocate for the incredible people in the agricultural population who have suffered injuries, accidents, or have disabilities. These individuals’ challenges never hold them back from checking calves at 4:00 a.m. in the midst of a bitter winter storm or an overnight harvest shift and, most notably, from helping to feed this wonderful world we live in.”

She added that the individuals featured on this podcast are filled with perseverance, grit, pride, and a wealth of wisdom. “My podcasts are a space molded to cultivate compassion, empathy, and support.”

Joyce explained that currently, what can help this population most is assistance to get in and out of equipment and correct occupational therapy. She has researched and connected with companies that focus on building equipment to help individuals with disabilities. That equipment is very adaptable for farmers and ranchers with disabilities including running board lifts and truck bed lifts. She has been working with the company Life Essentials which constructs a variety of lifts that can be adapted to allow a farmer access to a tractor or combine seat.

“I was visiting with someone at Agrability and he said I was a unicorn,” Joyce said, adding that she was at first not sure exactly was the comment was encompassing. Then he explained, “You’re involved in health care but you also know agriculture.”

This incentivized Joyce to take on being a professor at the OT program at Rocky Mountain College to increase knowledge and rural cultural competence for the future of the profession and patients.

The enterprising young woman received approval to start a foundation, meaning tax -deductible donations can be made to help disabled members of the ag community afford adaptive equipment, and allow her to continue her informational campaign to help others, including those working in the OT field.

She shared a story about a female farmer who experienced a stroke and was in rehabilitation. “The OT was using a driving simulator to see if the woman would be safe to drive again, but was frustrated that her patient kept hitting the brake more often than necessary. Not being able to drive is a big burden. It wasn’t until the woman’s daughter in-law was there that she mentioned she was used to driving farm equipment and manual vehicles with a clutch. There needs to be more understanding of agricultural practices when it comes to rehabilitation.”

“I do my best to empathize how sometimes people want to just give up,” Joyce noted. “I’m hoping Cutting Fences can offer connections and support for anyone who has sustained an ag accident or has disabilities but still wants to be involved in agriculture.”

In addition to Joyce, the Montana Agri-Women’s meeting featured speaker newly elect MAW President Doreen Gillespie covering Montana agricultural issues; Drange Apiaries’ Jodie Drange speaking about honeybees, meat goats and providing agricultural advocacy tips; Rep Kerri Seekins-Crow (HD-43) giving a legislative perspective, and Melody Dobson talking about the American Doorstep Project that focuses on preserving American agricultural history.

Recently elected American Agri-Women President Heather Hampton-Knodle addressed the group on the importance of being involved in the organization, and plans for helping the organization grow with new teams and resources.

The meeting concluded with a tour of the Huntley Project Museum, which offers a history of the expansive irrigation project and the communities that emerged because of it, dating back to 1907.


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