I am Marla Hasheider.  My husband Larry and I are grain and livestock farmers.  We have three children and three grandchildren, with one on the way in a month.  We also have a love of gardening.

Larry and I love tilling the soil, planting seeds, watching them grow, and harvesting from our labor.  It doesn’t matter how well or bad my garden did last year, I am optimistic this year will be a good year and have a good harvest.  Larry (and I believe all farmers) are excited and optimistic in the spring when they plant their seeds and watch them grow.

Two weeks ago we tilled the garden to prepare for planting.  I have lettuce and spinach up and growing already and I have peas, potatoes, and strawberries in the ground.  I will also plant broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers, green beans, tomatoes, and jack-o-lantern and pie pumpkins when the time is right.

Larry looks forward to our garden maturing because he likes to go in the garden and pick some pea pods and just shell them and eat.  Talk about a healthy afternoon snack!

I love planting the large varieties of watermelon.  Last year I grew a watermelon that weighed 120 pounds.  I picked it to enter it in the Okawville Wheat Festival and won first place.  After the fair, we cut it open and it was not even red inside.  It had a lot of maturing to still do.

Giant PumpkinTwo years ago I planted pumpkin seeds for large pumpkins.  Once the pumpkins developed on the vine, you could see it getting bigger every day.  When the grand kids came over, I would take them out to the pumpkin patch to see the pumpkin.  Larry, our son and a nephew loaded it on a trailer and we took it to enter it in the Wheat Festival.  The scale at the Wheat Festival was not big enough to weigh the pumpkins so we took them to the grain elevator in town to weigh them.  I grew a pumpkin that weighed 500 pounds (and two others that weighed 340 and 380 pounds!) I won first place with that pumpkin.

I am the cook at our Lutheran School in town.  Last year I grew enough jack-o-lantern and pie pumpkins that I gave every student (60) in our school a pumpkin.  We also have blackberries, cherries, rhubarb and grapes that we enjoy every year.

Larry plants lots of sweet corn.   Our son wanted to plant a lot so we could give some away.  Our children and grandchildren come over and in assembly line fashion, we cut the corn off the cob and freeze it.  Everybody takes plenty home to eat all year long.  The extra corn we give to family and friends.  For us, it is more fun to give it to friends to enjoy than to take it to farmers market and sell it.

The garden is a fun place for me.  I love to try growing new things and I appreciate the bounty that it provides my family and my community every year.  Especially at this time of year, when my plot of soil is so full of the promises of good food, my family working together and award winning crops, I can always look out at my garden and smile.

Marla Hascheider
Illinois farmer


Originally posted in the April 7 issue of the Pantagraph.

For a guy used to working with his hands, the job was frustrating.

Farmer Randy Miller of Chenoa was shown a small board with bolts, washers and nuts and told to remove them and put them back on. It was an important step in his occupational therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, just months after he was almost paralyzed in a crash on the way home from the grain elevator.

He struggled. “If I can’t do this,” he thought, then how will I ever farm again?

More than two years later, Miller, 43, is farming again. That’s thanks in part to AgrAbility Unlimited, a statewide program that helps those in agriculture who have disabilities. AgrAbility, created in 1990 as part of a national initiative, was government-funded for years but is now seeking private support to stay afloat.

“It gives you hope, shows you what other people with disabilities have done and are doing,” Miller said.

AgrAbility is a joint program of the University of Illinois Extension and the Easter Seals Central Illinois. A client service manager gets calls from farmers or referrals from family and friends. Some get advice on how to, say, devise a lift to get into a combine; others are guided to the state’s rehabilitative services staff for financial help.

AgrAbility has helped more than 800 people since its inception in 1990, said director Bob Aherin, an ag safety professor at U of I. Clients’ backgrounds range from heart problems to partial paralysis, he said.

Randy Miller struggles to use his left hand while assembling the subsystem of a planter in his tractor shed near Weston on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Miller suffered a broken neck in an accident in October 2008. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

“The biggest focus is to try and keep them engaged and involved in farming, despite whatever disability they have,” Aherin said.

Initially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state’s ag agency picked up the tab until funding was cut entirely about 1½ years ago. Aherin said the program runs on about $180,000 annually, largely for a handful of part-time staffers, with only a small portion used to help farmers buy assistive equipment.

“For a statewide program, we’re pretty frugal,” he said, noting a vast network of volunteers.

AgrAbility has enough carryover state money and donations from groups like Illinois Farm Bureau and Growmark to last thru December, he said. An application to the USDA for more funds is pending.

Helping Randy

Miller’s neck was broken but his spine was not severed in the October 2008 crash. After treatment at a Peoria hospital and three months in Chicago, Miller did six months of outpatient work at a Pontiac hospital, which he said was more equipped to deal with farmers’ unique needs. It even had a Deere tractor cab replica for patient use.

Miller said he’s blessed not to be confined to a bed or wheelchair, but the accident lingers. He has poor balance, can’t type with his left hand, and has no pain sensation on his right side. He was down 45 pounds at one point.

Chip Petrea, AgrAbility’s client service manager, visited Miller’s farm in spring 2009. They discussed his options for returning to farming, from upgrading an older tractor with more accessible steps, to using more air-powered tools to make it easier on his hands but not clog up the ground with cords.

Randy Miller uses a cane to walk around his farm near Weston on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

Miller said he bought a new combine with more push-button electronics. Petrea also helped get Miller a reverse-facing camera and monitor for his combine cab, so he didn’t have to strain his neck turning around.

“I just try to present them with options of what other farmers have done in their situations,” Petrea said.

Getting back hope was the biggest benefit for Miller, married with two children, ages 12 and 14. Miller said AgrAbility also helped him face a difficult realization about tasks he used to do, such as climbing on equipment.

“You want to try things, but you also have to accept there’s things you probably shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

Miller’s brother came to help on the farm after the crash. Miller drove the combine a bit last fall, and hopes to drive the tractor a bit more this spring. He can’t go overboard, or his damaged nerves start to burn.

Still, it’s something he never thought he’d do again.

“I’ve made an amazing recovery,” he said.

How to help

AgrAbility Unlimited has set up a 501(c)(3) account at University of Illinois to accept contributions from individuals, businesses or other groups. Checks should be made out to “University of Illinois AgrAbility Program,” and sent to:

Bob Aherin, AgrAbility Unlimited program director
University of Illinois
1304 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801

For more information, contact Aherin at 217-333-9417 or visit