Jessy Woodworth, Agricultural Communications Major, The Ohio State University, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
On a crisp Sunday morning in mid-September, 11 members of Ohio State’s Agricultural Systems Management (ASM) club arrived at BaaLiss Grass Farm.
Clarence Atkinson and Deborah Mattix own BaaLiss Grass Farm, raising Irish Dexter cattle, Katahdin sheep and Buckeye chickens, all organic and free range. They grow these animals on their land and sell the products at farmers markets. However, in order to keep up with demand organic, grass fed meat, they needed a hand.
“We found hope in AgrAbility,” Mattix said. “They make it possible to get the human piece we need and keep this place alive. The people make all the difference.”
Atkinson, a lifelong dairy farmer and the second generation to own the farm, has Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome; a form of muscular dystrophy that impacts the connection between nerve and muscle cells. His physical disabilities made farm work more difficult and hazardous than it already was. “We can’t stop farming because of one obstacle,” Mattix insisted, looking out over her flock of Katahdin sheep. “We have made a life here and have adapted. We just need some help every once in a while. That’s why we are so thankful for these boys.”
“We are here to help. Our classes at Ohio State have given us certain skills that Clarence and Deborah don’t have anymore, and that’s where we come in,” Amherst, Ohio native and ASM club’s Service Chair Brandon Palmer, explained. “This is a special chance to give back to the agricultural community. We just want to help and this is an awesome chance to do that. We are excited to help out, but want events like this to keep happening. This has to be sustainable. It can’t be a one-and-done thing.”
“We are out here helping the agricultural community, helping somebody who is not able to completely pursue the passion that he has done his whole life due to being disabled,” said club member Forrest Lang, 20, of Wooster, Ohio. “We are just happy to be here helping out with stuff that we are good at.”
“AgrAbility is a vital program to the disabled population of farmers in America,” explained Laura Akgerman, the Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility, OSU Extension, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and assisted in coordinating the connection between BaaLiss and the ASM club.
“Our farmers are able and willing to work, they just need a few adjustments to make it safe. We help them get funding for those adjustments and help in any way we can.”
All tasks they had been given were quickly completed. The club churned out results and finished projects faster than Mattix could keep up. She trudged through the mud in her crusted boots, trying to find more for the group to help with, but couldn’t make a list fast enough. When the tasks were concluded, the club members found more to do, eventually running out of resources. They joked and laughed with the farmers while changing oil, cutting down small trees and filling groundhog holes. The work was easy for the hoard, but to the couple, it was several weeks’ worth of duties that would have ended up being pushed aside for more pressing tasks.
“We can’t describe how much this means to us,” Mattix told the group. They conspired for a moment and asked if there was any way they could repay the men and show their gratitude. The debt was quickly settled with handshakes, hugs and leftover bananas.
For more information about Ohio AgrAbility, please contact Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility and OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, at Akgerman.firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-292-0622.