Nellie Bell was proud to introduce her mom and dad last year when she got the chance. And she had the chance, often to large audiences, because she served as an Indiana State FFA officer in 2010-2011. The Hagerstown FFA stand-out, coached in high school by Don Sturgeon, became a hero to thousands of FFA members who looked up to her across Indiana.
She has her own hero, her parents. And she ahs a special story to tell about her dad, Ed Bell. Often, he tells the story himself at meetings, such as the AgrAbility Conference in Indianapolis recently. Ed is a farmer, and for years has specialized in growing produce, particularly strawberries and u-pick strawberries, on his farm near Hagerstown.
But he's more than a farmer. He's also an example of someone who suffered a disabling injury but persevered. He suffered a spinal cord injury at the age of 21 that left him a T-1 paraplegic. He has been open to using equipment developed by specialty companies and universities to help people like him, and has often spoken about his situation and what he's learned, hoping ot help other people who might find themselves in similar situations.
Modifications he made with the help of friends and family in the early days after his accident so that he could continue farming included installing hand controls and high-back seats with seat belts on his tractors. He uses a wheelchair for mobility both on and off the farm.
Life changed, but he continually moved forward. It's a message many disabled farmers who decided to continue farming and took advantage from friends, neighbors and programs like AgrAbility can tell. When Ed first started visiting with the staff from Purdue University, led by Bill Field, the program was Breaking New Ground. Purdue continues the effort under that name, but is also one of the leading resources for AgrAbility, which is now a national program funded by Congress under the farm bill.
His daughter didn't have to look too far for inspiration. That served her well as she traveled the state meeting with FFA members a year ago. She is now pursuing her education.