Work Just Got a Whole Lot Easier for One Million Female Farmers

Green Heron Tools breaks new ground with its female friendly gear.

When Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger left their day jobs to become farmers in New Tripoli, PA, they were quickly introduced to the constant aches and pains that go hand in hand with modern agricultural labor. As the two women soon realized, despite all the mechanization and science utilized in farming these days, at its core it’s still a brutally physical task, and one that is uniquely and especially taxing on female farmers. Rather than chalk this up to the natural order of things, or some unavoidable work hazard, though, the ex-public health worker and former nonprofit consultant figured out that the problems they and other women were experiencing stemmed from using tools designed for men, who typically have more upper body strength, narrow hips, wider shoulders, and larger grips. So they did the only logical thing: Over the course of several years, Adams and Brensinger secured nearly half a million dollars in U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research grants, measuring the angles, postures, and energy expenditures with which women use tools, and hiring an agricultural engineer and a therapist to work through the data with them. In 2008, they started Green Heron Tools, a company ranking and selling female-friendly gear, and this year they’ve made a breakthrough with the new HERShovel, a four-pound, angle-bladed, large D-handled shovel, designed specifically for women’s bodies.

The HERShovel is one of those rare, brilliantly simple solutions to an age-old problem. Women have long been a vital part of the agricultural workforce, and in the last three decades, the number of women running American farms has almost tripled, jumping from five to 14 percent between 1978 and 2007. Maybe a century ago, when mass replication was necessary and markets were a little harder to tap, it was defensible, or at least logical, to produce one-size-fits-all tools. But in the modern era, with over 300,000 female farm owners and one million female farm operators in America alone, it’s absurd that the HERShovel is the first dedicated-by-design farm tool for women.


Unfortunately, the farming world has never paid much attention to design, and most agricultural tools weren’t really constructed with the comfort of any farmer, male or female, in mind. Since 2001, agencies like the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have tried to promote ergonomics (the study of the best fit between tasks, tools, form, and the human body) within the agricultural sector. They’ve issued reports and tip sheets on modifying tools and tasks to combat the astronomical rates of muscular-skeletal disorders among agricultural laborers. And they’ve made a consistent, compelling case for the benefits of making simple changes to these tools—over the course of their lives, half of all agricultural workers will report chronic back pain, versus a third of all other manual laborers. These conditions can cost farmers up to $168 million per year in health and worker’s compensation costs, not to mention loss of productivity. Yet despite the fact that agriculture consistently misses the industry’s safety targets for lingering, work-related pain and disorders, there has been little groundbreaking innovation in the field over the past few years.

Some of this has to do with ergonomics proponents repeatedly suggesting the same cheap, but hard to enforce, behavioral changes, like wearing gloves or changing one’s working posture, that avoid total design overhauls. Some of it is can be attributed to entrenched mindsets. Adams and Brensinger, among others, have reported that men and women alike actually expect farm work to be awkward and arduous. And some of it is the systematic entrenchment of those expectations into law, with agricultural labor often exempted from proposed worker’s health changes.

Fortunately, over the last few years, some industry players have slowly lurched into action, designing lines of ergonomically-sound soil knives, hand plows, pruners, and other basic tools. Some of these, simply by dint of their efficient and friendly design, are approved by Green Heron as women-friendly. Green Heron Tools is also working on ever-more female-focused tools, like the upcoming lightweight, battery powered, adjustable-height rototiller. Now, the question is how to make these tools (or DIY how-to guides) cheap and available beyond niche markets, to those who need them most. Early projects, like a community-based program for the design and distribution of specialized hoes in Ghanaian farming communities, promise to address chronic health concerns for women and other vulnerable groups. But they desperately need to be publicized, funded, and scaled up if they’re going to make any kind of dent at all.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet