By Jim Harger, MLive
Paul Geer and his partner, Ruth Smiley, pose for a photo in their flower shop, Frozen Creek Floral, on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. Geer, who is in constant back pain, continues to grow vegetables and run a flower shop and freeze drying business with Smiley. (Neil Blake | MLive.com)
BELMONT, MI – Paul Geer, owner of Frozen Creek Farms, has gone through 14 back surgeries and a full hip replacement – disabilities that would keep most farmers out of their fields and barns.
But thanks to help from the Easter Seals of Michigan's Agrability program, Geer and his partner, Ruth Smiley, are able to continue raising and processing vegetables and flowers from their 20-acre farm at 5959 Cannonsburg Road NE.
As a regular vendors at farmers markets throughout West Michigan, they raise tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers in his greenhouse and beans and squash in his fields. They also create herbal dips, soups and seasonings in their kitchens.
From their 130-year-old farm house, they also operate Frozen Creek Floral, which specializes in freeze-dried floral arrangements. They are the only company in Michigan which freeze-dries floral arrangements, Geer said.
The couple also sells kettle corn at ArtPrize events and sell flower arrangements at Fallasburg Fall festival and other craft shows.
All of those activities require a great deal of mobility, something the 65-year-old Geer has needed help with since his first back operation in 2000 and a subsequent automobile accident in 2012.
Today, Geer moves around with a walker while a morphine pump relieves his back pain every hour. His only grip fingers are in his thumb and index.
He's unable to walk more than 75 yards without assistance. His right shoulder is weakened for reaching and pulling. He also has hearing loss.
But Geer is not ready to give up and the Agrability program was willing to help.
After going through an evaluation with Ned Stoller of Foresight Services, LLC, the program helped Geer acquire new hearing aids, which allow him to better communicate with customers at farmers markets.
The program also provided him with a lift that allows him to get on a tractor. Plans are in the works for pouring a concrete pad that will allow him to wheel vegetables from his storage sheds to the bus-trucks they use to carry product to markets.
Mark Lange, an online outreach coordinator for the Easter Seals of Michigan's disability services, said the Agrability program is funded by private donations and a federal grant administered through Michigan State University's Extension Service.
"We typically serve 100 clients a year, though we did 120 last year," Lange said. He estimated up to 2,000 of Michigan's 53,000 farmers could benefit from the program. Michigan is one of 23 states in the U.S. with an Agrability program, he said.
Lange said farmers can receive a free assessment from the Agrability program by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.