SPOTLIGHT: UMASH is About the People & the Partnerships

SPOTLIGHT: UMASH is About the People & the Partnerships

MAY 2021

UMASH is an interdisciplinary organization spanning five states and at least five industries (i.e., agriculture, public health, veterinary medicine, occupational health, and healthcare). Through committed partnerships with community leaders, field experts, and researchers, UMASH has the tools to address multifaceted problems in agricultural health and safety.

Over the course of two years, Averi Olson, OTD partnered with UMASH to address the occupational strengths and risks of aging on the farm. Maria Bertrand, our former Research Assistant and Student Communications Specialist, sat down with Averi to learn more.


Could you tell me about yourself?

I’m from a small town in North Dakota. I grew up in a farming family and attended graduate school at the University of Mary for occupational therapy (OT). I just graduated, and my focus after school is rural therapy.

What drew you to occupational therapy?

Our family farm is in a community of older people. My grandpa has arthritis. Arthritis is known to cause joint pain and swelling. He always had to find a different way to do things ‘cause he couldn’t hold a drill or a wrench in a fist. That made me ask myself: “what can I adapt or modify to help him?” My dad also recently started having shoulder pain. What caused the shoulder pain? Lifting heavy things. Not taking the right precautions. Simple things that we know but don’t always follow. That’s why I wanted to focus on occupational therapy within agriculture.

What are the specific steps that led to your eventual partnership with UMASH?

I reached out in 2019. My professor knew of Dr. Carla Wilhite, a professor at the University of New Mexico who is involved with Agrability. When conversing with Dr. Wilhite, she talked about NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. This led me to email UMASH Director Jeff Bender and explain why UMASH was a good fit for my doctoral capstone experience.

In the last semester of my program every student completes a doctoral capstone experience. We have the opportunity to choose whatever we want, and I decided to do agriculture because it reflected my background in OT and farming. In OT, we use a theory called the Person-Environment-Occupation-Performance model where the person and their environment affects how they perform tasks within an occupation. This model reflects the One Health
principle and established UMASH as a great opportunity for me as an OT student to promote and prevent occupational health.

What was your project about?

There were different components. It started with the Aging on the Farm Community Forums, seeing what the speaker panelists and discussion groups thought about the topic of aging and farming. Then we did the wiki survey, where the public could vote what health and safety concerns were the greatest risk. We did all of that in 2020.

Then, in 2021, Megan Schossow (UMASH Center Coordinator and Director of Outreach), Dan Younggren, and I also presented at the Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health (MRASH) Conference last fall where we shared an occupational therapist’s and farmer’s perspective with the outcomes of the Aging on the Farm Community Forum and the public survey. After the conference, UMASH partnered with AgriSafe to create a Parkinson’s webinar, which we did in April, 2021. I also made a couple of resources regarding Parkinson’s and agriculture. In addition, I visited Riverview, LLP to get familiar with the dairy industry and learn why and how repetitive motion injuries impact dairy workers. That led to UMASH resources made for repetitive motion injuries. Currently, I am working in collaboration with Megan and Jeff to prepare an academic commentary for the Journal of Agromedicine.

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Recommendations for Prevention: Worker Injuries Caused by Repetitive Motion

Preventing musculoskeletal injuries in the work environment can lead to improvements in worker wellbeing and performance, milk production, and cow health.


Repetitive Motion Injuries: [noun]

Injuries due to performing the same motion over and over. These conditions are due to overuse, without adequate recovery. Low back strain due to repeated lifting, especially with poor technique, is an example.

– Suzanne Tanner, M.D. (Mayo Clinic)

What was your favorite part in that process?

My favorite part was talking to other professionals, seeing their perspective and input. That’s how the Parkinson’s work came about. I also enjoyed working with UMASH’s communications and evaluations teams throughout this spring.

What are your next steps?

I accepted a job in rural Minnesota that will work with functional psych and a suicide prevention program for farmers plus some pediatric patients. It’s not very common to run into those programs within rural areas, and I’m excited to see where this opportunity takes me.

What advice do you have for students interested in the work you’re doing?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I grew up in a farming family, but it doesn’t mean I know everything about agriculture.
  • My project was unique compared to my classmates’ because I got to work with a completely different industry. OT is considered within the realm of the healthcare industry, but during my capstone project, I was working with the agriculture industry. Which is why it is good to ask yourself: How do we meet in the middle? Why are we related? Try to find those connections.
  • Be familiar with what everybody does. Being able to make those connections and interact with other professionals other than occupational therapists can make a significant impact. This goes along with being open to anything.

Physical Health Resources

As one of the most hazardous industries, farm workers are at a high risk for both fatal and nonfatal physical injuries and illnesses. More than just preparing to avoid a one time incident, farm safety is also about continual practices and measures taken to protect the health and wellbeing of agricultural workers. From aging farmers to youth on the farm, health concerns associated with agriculture range from transportation incidents and pesticide exposure to musculoskeletal disorders and hearing loss.

Access free fact sheets, posters, and other resources on physical health concerns on the farm, including:

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Repetitive Motion
  • Long-term Injuries