Don’t tell Rick Eberhart he can’t do something. He will prove you wrong every time. Growing up a city boy, he knew farming was in his future thanks to summer visits to his uncle’s farm. When a banker told an 18-year-old Eberhart that he wouldn’t be able to own a farm unless he had a relative to inherit from, Eberhart took that as a personal challenge to prove the banker wrong.
Eberhart started out with 80 acres that had not been farmed for 18 years. Through hard work, long hours, an off-farm job and sheer determination, Eberhart did prove the banker wrong about his future in farming. However, he’s experienced many obstacles on the road to owning his now 137-acre dairy farm.
At a glance, Eberhart appears to have no physical ailments, but nearly five years ago, he was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia. Three months later, he received a bone marrow transplant, and the doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of survival. At the time of his diagnosis, exhausted after he returned home. Eberhart initially called AgrAbility of Wisconsin when he was diagnosed, but he was very apprehensive. According to Eberhart, “I thought it was just another bunch of people collecting a paycheck.” When he came home from the hospital he asked himself why he was beating his head against the wall trying to farm with his physical limitations, and decided to sign up for AgrAbility services.
After being added to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s (DVR) waiting list, he was contacted by Carlene Volbrecht, Rural Rehabilitation Specialist for the Easter Seals Wisconsin FARM Program (ESW). “When I was finally contacted, I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” Eberhart explained.
Volbrecht and Gwen Steele, a DVR counselor, worked together to find the assistive technology that would work best to help Eberhart with his day-to-day activities. Eberhart’s rotational grazing program requires maintaining and moving fence line, as well as collecting cattle from the pasture. He had also developed a higher sensitivity to the weather as a result of his cancer. Thus, Volbrecht suggested a utility vehicle with a cab. After test driving several models, Eberhart found the Bobcat manufacturer’s utility vehicle worked best for entering, exiting, and moving around the farm. Eberhart purchased a silo unloader at an auction to eliminate the need to climb the silo, but was unable to install it himself. With DVR’s help, the unloader was professionally installed. DVR also helped Eberhart purchase an electric feed cart. The electric cart decreases the labor required to feed the cattle inside and outside. To further assist Eberhart, a concrete pad will be added to the barnyard. This will allow Eberhart to easily move the feed cart to feed cattle outside.
Bedding cattle required Eberhart to climb into the mow, drop bales into the barn below and shake the straw out by hand. To reduce the amount of energy needed to carry the straw bales and bed, Volbrecht suggested fixing the current bedding chopper and installing cow mats in the barn to reduce the straw needed on a daily basis.
With the help of AAW and DVR, Eberhart found it was easier to complete his daily tasks. Currently, he can work for about three and a half hours before he needs to rest. His goal is to continue to work up his strength so he can work longer hours doing what he has always loved. “If it hadn’t been for Easter Seals [AAW and DVR], I probably would have given up.”
Eberhart credits his success to following advice his father gave him years ago. “Anything you want to do and want to do bad enough will happen.” Eberhart has proven this many times over. He made his dream of owning his own farm come true, and thanks to the partnership with ESW, AAW and DVR, he has a long future in farming ahead of him.