RUMFORD, Maine — Over a period of 20 years, Annette Marin experienced increasing difficulty performing the physical labor needed to complete daily chores on her third-generation family farm.

“I’ve been having issues with mobility, not being able to bend at the knees, for a long time,” Marin, owner of the No View Farm, Inn & Bakery, located along the Androscoggin River, in rural Oxford County, said. “I hadn’t been able to bend at the knees for so long and I was doing a lot of bending over, which caused acid reflux problems. It was burning out my esophagus and there were all kinds of other issues that came up.”

For the past 35 years, Marin has owned the diversified farm, a bit under 5 acres, which was started by her grandfather, then passed along to her parents. At one point, about 2.5 acres produced vegetables and herbs. Now, the majority of the farm’s vegetables, herbs and seedlings are grown in four greenhouses, she said.

“I actually had a lot bigger space,” Marin said. “In 2000, I started the greenhouses. I had four greenhouses out at the other end of the field. Then in 2005, I had a dye spill (released from an accident involving a truck carrying dye) here that wiped me out and I had to move my greenhouses. So my gardening space shrunk tremendously.”

While it may be a small farm in terms of size, it has a big mission when it comes to products and diversification. In addition to the greenhouses, Marin operates a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, a bakery, a bed and breakfast, and the Gone Loco! Cafe, and rents organic garden space. Marin, with the help of friends and neighbors in the community, also started a program that distributes food to hungry families and individuals.

“I ended up having palsy and lost the use of the left side of my face in 2009,” Marin said. “That was the beginning of my real issues. I started having a lot of problems. I actually blew my right knee out in 2016.”

That happened while she was working at Hallmark, her off-farm job. It was nine months before she could go back to work. In 2018, Marin quit her job at Hallmark to work full-time on her farm. Among other goals, Marin is considering starting a food truck business.

In 2011, Marin and her friend, Ellen Gibson, were taking a class in Fairfield. Gibson, a farmer, had just started working with the Maine AgrAbility program. Funded by a USDA grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the non-profit program operates through a collaboration with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the National AgrAbility Project.

Services are provided at no charge, Gibson said. The program serves farmers, fishermen and forest workers who are experiencing a range of disabilities by connecting them to a network of federal, state and local resources and services to get them back to work.

“We had a two-hour drive, so we did the assessment in the car, because we couldn’t figure out another time to get together,” Gibson said. “That was in January 2011, and by July of 2011, she was working with the VR (vocational rehabilitation). I wrote the assessment, looking at things that she might not want to look at or that she might not have thought of and it gave her a different perspective and some new directions to look into.”

Gibson said AgrAbility does not have a budget to provide direct funding to meet client needs. Instead, her job, and that of the other AgrAbility staff, is to connect clients with existing resources. That’s why the initial client assessment is extensive and specific in terms of determining the disability, the individual’s financial resources, educational background, healthcare insurance, and more.

Gibson said Marin met the federal eligibility requirements to qualify for vocational rehabilitation services. Among other requirements, Marin’s physical conditions met the fairly stringent disability definition to receive vocational rehabilitation services.

“We are connecting people with the resources that are already out there,” Gibson said. “There are a whole bunch of different rules that they have to follow because of there funding guidelines. We have a very extensive list of other funders where people can go and there’s things like GoFundMe for crowd sourcing. Depending on what kind of specific enterprise they’re pursuing, which one would be would be the best match.”

AgrAbility attempts to determine the client’s specific limitations. What are the medical issues? How do those issues impact the client’s ability to continue to work, Gibson said.

“The first line of defense is working with occupational therapists who know farming,” Gibson said. “They know how to keep people independent when they are working with disabilities. They look at someone like a network, and look at the ergonomics of the work that individual is doing. What’s the environment? What are the issues? How does the work impact the client’s limitations? How do the limitations impact the work being done? Through assistive technology, different kinds of tools, or changing up the way they do things, we come up with individualized plans for clients.”

For Marin, AgrAbility provided hope at a time when she needed it most. Rather than dwell about the past, she looks to the future — a future where she continues to run her farm and to reach out and help others.

For more information on AgrAbility, visit https://extension.umaine.edu/agrability/.

This article is one of a two-part series featuring different facets of the Maine AgrAbility program.

Jeffrey B. Roth is a freelance writer in Maine.