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Bedford County cattle farmer finds way to keep family farm while losing vision

AM HILT BLIND CATTLE FARMER PKG.transfer_frame_1298.jpeg
Posted at 6:09 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 08:01:47-05

BEDFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — If you spend more than a few minutes on Jason Barber's Bedford County farm, you can tell that cattle farming is in his blood.

"This farm has been in our family since 1866," Barber said. "This would make me the seventh generation, the best I remember doing the math."

Barber said he never loses sight of that history, even as his own sight continues to fade.

"It was definitely a gut-punch to know that one day I will be in the dark," Barber said.

Two decades ago, Barber began losing his vision.

"I was diagnosed with a vision disorder of retinitis pigmentosa," he explained. The rare condition doesn't have a cure and is slowly taking Barber's eyesight. Now, the seventh-generation cattle farmer is considered legally blind.

"My central vision is my primary difficulty. I can use my peripherals pretty well but that again is slowly decreasing," Barber said. "If I could look at a cow here in the lot, I can't tell you what that number is and what calf number is assigned to that cow... you'd be surprised how much vision goes into play with farming."

As his vision got worse, Barber worried it would mean the end for the 155-year-old family farm.

"I promised my dad in his last days I will continue doing what I can as long as I can," Barber said. "So it would be disappointing for the generations to end on me."

But two years ago, Barber's story caught the eye of the Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation program, a state department that works to keep people with disabilities in the workforce. The program has offices across the state to help people with disabilities.

"We want to provide a variety of services to any person with a disability that's either obtain work for the first time, regain a position if they've lost or retain a position they already have and want to keep," Linda Fisher said.

The department began helping Barber find solutions, and now the farmer, who used a flip phone until just last year, wears a high-tech device called an OrCam. The tool clips onto his glasses and can read out loud everything from medicine bottles to cattle tags.

"Whenever I'm walking through the herd and I get to a cow that I need to know the number, the OrCam will read it back to me," Barber explained.

Barber said he's still working out some of the bugs since the camera wasn't created with cattle in mind. He's working on getting bar codes on his cattle tags, that can store more information about the cows and read it back to him in the field.

"It's not necessarily geared toward anybody in the agricultural fields," Barber said.

Still, he said the new tool is invaluable, and is something that can help the family farm see another day

"My goal is to continue doing it as long as my health will allow me to do," Barber said. "I could never see myself doing anything in life but this."