Safe on the Farm

Mini-grants help agricultural businesses root out conditions that cause sickness and injury.

Photo of farmer in the field using safety chute to direct cow.
Injuries can occur when trying to maneuver large animals. This handling system directs animals into a chute, which holds them steady when getting inoculations, ear tags, etc. That keeps animals and farmers safe.

A few years ago, experts at the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) identified a flaw in their efforts to keep people who work on farms healthy and safe. NYCAMH would send a specialist to walk through a farm and point out conditions there that posed potential hazards. The expert would explain how to resolve the problem and offer technical assistance with the necessary work. “Then the farmer would say, ‘I know that’s dangerous, but I don’t have any money to fix it,” says Julie Sorensen, director of NYCAMH, in Cooperstown. 

According to NYCAMH, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the U.S. Recent research by the organization shows that in 2009 through 2018, agricultural injuries in New York killed 169 people. 

NYCAMH is owned by the Bassett Healthcare Network but relies entirely on grants for support. 

The NYCAMH specialists who visit farms often find hazards that could injure or sicken farmers, their families or their workers. One common example is obsolete wiring that could start a barn fire. “The barn may have been wired decades ago, and that wiring doesn’t match the energy requirements now that the farm has gotten more animals or purchased more machinery,” Sorensen says. People also get hurt when farms lack proper livestock handling systems, or eye wash stations for people who work with hazardous chemicals, to name just a couple of other examples. 

If farmers can’t afford to make improvements, NYCAMH’s research and educational efforts become pointless, Sorensen says. 

To address this problem, in 2016 NYCAMH started to offer mini-grants to farmers who want to eliminate safety hazards. In 2019, the Community Foundation granted that program $15,000. 

Proposals for the mini-grants go through a rigorous review process, Sorensen says. When NYCAMH awards support, it covers 50 percent of the cost of an improvement, up to $5,000. 

Not only has the mini-grant program let more farmers make safety upgrades, but it has helped NYCAMH engage with more small and medium-sized farms. Those farmers face especially tough economic challenges these days. With no cash to spare for improvements, in the past they often steered clear of NYCAMH’s initiatives, Sorensen says. 

Staff at NYCAMH hope the mini-grant program will let those farmers and others address safety issues, Sorensen says. “And, in turn, we hope that will keep them healthy, injury-free and sustainable.”

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