Disabled Vietnam veteran Dean Wierth, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, poor balance and vision problems, still takes care of 66 goats — with assistance from Colorado's edition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 22-state AgrAbility Project.

Helen H. Richardson/ The Denver Post

The Number of Farmers Is Dropping. So How Will the U.S. Continue to Feed the World?

The AgrAbility Project has an idea.

According to last year’s report on agriculture from the U.S. Census, the American farmer is aging. The percentage of farmers and ranchers over the age of 75 grew by 15.1 percent between 2007 and 2012, while the number of farmers and ranchers under the age of 54 decreased by 16.1 percent during the same time period.

Several programs are trying to entice veterans into the agricultural field, while the AgrAbility Project, which helps older and disabled farmers gain various forms of assistance, is helping existing farmers to plant, shepherd and harvest longer.

In Colorado, the program enables Dean Wierth to tend to his herd of goats in Park County, despite his declining balance and vision. Using an electric cart, he is able to feed and tend to the livestock living on the 40 acres he owns, plus the additional 40 acres he leases.

“It’s been a godsend. My balance was just about gone,” he tells the Denver Post about the AgrAbility program.

For 16 years, Goodwill Industries and Colorado State University have run the AgrAbility program in Colorado, helping 538 farming and ranching families during that time. Recently, the federal government kicked in $720,000 to fund the program for four more years.

Wierth, a disabled Vietnam veteran himself, is now pitching in to start a facility that will teach veterans how to farm and ranch. South Park Heritage Association and the Wounded Warrior USA Outreach Program are currently raising funds to purchase land for the program.

Robert Fetsch, co-director of the Colorado AgrAbility Project says, “Most farmers and ranchers don’t retire; they just keep on keeping on as long as they can. Our best course for now is to help them stay active and working, so they can continue to thrive, remain independent and be loyal taxpayers in their communities.”

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Source: Denver Post

Jenny Shank is a fiction writer and journalist in Boulder, Colo. Her first novel, “The Ringer,” won the High Plains Book Award. Her stories, essays, satire and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, McSweeney's and The Guardian.