Farming is not an easy life, but if you love it there is nothing that can make you turn away from that lifestyle. This holds true for Mary Dunn, co-owner of the Dunndale Swiss Farms, in rural Southwestern Wisconsin. The challenges Mary has faced would deter many from continuing to farm, but she faced those challenges head-on, and with a bit of help she is still farming today.
After attending college, Mary returned to her family’s dairy farm in the 1970’s and jumped right in with all of the chores, including milking. Soon after her return home, Mary started experiencing pain, which is attributed to arthritis. The arthritis, which was primarily in her knees and feet, is exceedingly common among dairy farmers. This pain was on and off for about five years when it became a larger problem, afflicting not only Mary’s feet and knees, but also her back, hips and shoulders. The pain from arthritis severely limited Mary’s ability to move around the farm, keeping her from getting to the work that needed to be done.
She kept farming with the pain, doing as much as she could, even when her doctors suggested she find a new job off the farm. Mary shared that facing a challenge like arthritis is not only physically difficult, but it can also be a mental struggle. She knew she never wanted to give up farming and began looking into options to help her, which led her to the Harvest of Hope program, a program designed to help farm families in Wisconsin in need. Mary was then referred to the AgrAbility of Wisconsin program in 1994. She had also read about AgrAbility in local newspapers and decided to make the call.
When Mary reached out to AgrAbility about her limitations, Paul Leverenz, a member of the Easter Seals FARM Team, reassured her that she could keep farming with her severe arthritis. With the financial assistance provided through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) Mary now uses a gator to increase her mobility around the farm. She also used an electric feed cart that did not require manual pushing through the barn when feeding haylage and silage. This simple adjustment allowed Mary to avoid putting additional stress on her back, shoulders and legs. Even though Mary could move around better throughout the farm after these changes, it still was not easy for her to milk, which led her to alter her operation from dairy to beef in 2010.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Mary has been able to keep farming with pain from arthritis, even after the necessity of an amputation to the right leg, just below the knee, due to an infection. Her left foot also makes mobility difficult, now being fused to her lower leg at the ankle. Imagine farming with such severe limitations- well, Mary does it every day. With additional help from AgrAbility and DVR, Mary continues to operate her bull-calf operation. DVR assisted with modifications made to Mary’s machinery, including additional steps to allow her to get on the equipment safely and hand controls to reduce the need for Mary to use her legs and feet for operating the machinery.
Since first meeting Mary 22 years ago, she has become a great advocate and supporter for the AgrAbility of Wisconsin program, and helps out farmers in her community and beyond without a second thought. She is truly a person of kindness, determination and faith.
Farming for Mary may have changed throughout the years, but she has pushed off the negativity with a positive mindset and an optimistic outlook her entire life. No matter what future challenges she may face, Mary plans to continue farming, always ready with a good joke and a smile.