Randy Alexander Ashland, MS 6,388 Votes
When my wife and I decided to start a farm two years ago, we never stopped to ask if I would be able to farm with my disability. We started by asking ourselves how to design the farm so that I could be engaged as an equal partner in the day to day farm work. My C7 quadriplegia, the result of a gunshot wound in 1992, means everyday tasks require patience and planning. I am paralyzed from the chest down and have limited motility in my hands and arms. Our farm adventure would be an exercise in extreme creativity.
We are now in the second year of operating a successful farm business in north Mississippi, growing over 30 types of vegetables and pasture-raised eggs and chicken for our local community. From the height of vegetables washing bins and grape trellises to the position of the laying boxes in the chicken coop, our farm is designed for accessibility. While we are making strides towards a fully adaptive farm, there is still much to do. We are working on making the tractor accessible and getting a more suitable wheelchair for outdoor all-terrain work.
Farming is a new career for me. Since 1993, my professional life has been devoted to advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and helping people transition out of institutions to live full and productive lives in the community. Even though I am now living full time on the farm, I stay engaged with the disability community by coordinating a state wide peer to peer support program in Tennessee for individuals transitioning out of nursing homes and into their own homes.
Currently, whenever we leave the farm, my wife helps hoist me up into our Ford F150 pick-up truck. Traveling for work is also difficult as it requires a rental vehicle. A fully accessible van would both make our farm more profitable by allowing me to go to market independently, and increase the impact of my advocacy work by making it easier for me to travel.