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Keep on Farming

Sometimes there’s a moment in life when everything changes. For Arlington farmer Alan Kaltenberg, that moment happened twice.

The first was when he lost his arm four inches below the shoulder in a childhood accident involving farm machinery. “I’ve been without my left arm for 46 years,” says Kaltenberg, now 50.

The second came two years ago when Kaltenberg fell 30 feet off a grain bin, shattering both legs, including his ankles. “I landed standing straight up and down on my feet so the bones going up my leg just splintered,” he says. The accident left him with limited mobility.

Kaltenberg continues to farm about 300 acres of soybeans, wheat and corn, raise beef cattle and board his niece’s horse—a prodigious amount of work made possible with the help of AgrAbility, a federal program that for 20 years has had an active branch in Wisconsin housed at CALS.

AgrAbility has a simple mission: to help people keep working in production agriculture, even in the wake of an accident or basic wear and tear on the body. The program is run as a partnership between the CALS Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), UW Extension and Easter Seals of Wisconsin. Another key partner is the state Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which provides farmers with assistive technology—the nuts-and-bolts devices that allow farmers to keep working.

AgrAbility’s team of rehabilitation specialists and extension agents serve around 400 farming families each year, helping with problems ranging from arthritis and respiratory conditions to hearing and visual impairments, chronic back pain and amputations.

“We cover a broad umbrella of people with limiting conditions working in every area of agriculture—you name it,” says Vicki Janisch, AgrAbility’s outreach coordinator. “We help everybody who wants to continue farming.”

A farmer’s disabilities may change over a lifetime, and AgrAbility adjusts services accordingly. Kaltenburg’s second accident, for example, made climbing ladders impossible.

“They set up a skid loader that’s operated all one-handed, a stairway in our shop, a boom lift, and a feed mill I can use to unload from the tractor,” says Kaltenberg. “AgrAbility also helped look at ways to eliminate the repetition of doing things with one arm, to save wear and tear.”

Although loss of a limb and impaired mobility were big blows, the most important thing to Kaltenberg is that he can keep doing what he loves.

“It’s a life that’s tough but rewarding. It’s hard to explain how rewarding it really is,” says Kaltenberg. “It’s in your blood.”