2012 has started off a little ruggedly for me.  In mid-January my appendix and part of my colon were removed, and at the end of my 3-week recuperation, I had one great day where I worked out on our land with the house-building team.  The next day, I succumbed to further illness.  My compromised immune system made me vulnerable to influenza and then to pneumonia.  As I healed with frustrating slowness from pneumonia, I hoped I would be strong enough to attend the Midwest Organic Farming Conference – and I was (just barely).

I got to La Crosse, WI in time for the Thursday afternoon MOSES Rural Women’s Project on the tools and techniques that women can use to leverage their smaller body size and more minimal musculature to accomplish the farming tasks we want and need to.

The workshop was led by Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger of Green Heron Tools.  Ann brings a background in nursing and Liz has worked in public health before they both got into commercial gardening.  They searched for tools designed for women and found none, so they got a USDA grant to design some.


Why Do Women Need their own Tools?  Because we have:

  • 40-75% less upper-body strength
  • 5-30% less lower-body strength
  • Smaller stature
  • More adipose (fatty) tissue
  • Narrower shoulders
  • Wider hips
  • Proportionally shorter legs & arms
  • Smaller grips

Ann and Liz brought their first product to the demonstration:  the world’s first HERgonomic Shovel-spade hybrid designed scientifically and specifically for women.  I intend to order one of these puppies right away.

This weighs less than 4-1/2 pounds, which is light for a shovel.  The handle gives you many options for hand placement to keep the wrists in neutral position.  The diameter is designed to fit better and create less hand fatigue.  It comes in three lengths, so you can truly fit it to your needs.

Green Heron searches out tools that work well for women.  They have found a pruner maker in Japan, which because people tend to be smaller there, their tools are correspondingly smaller and a better fit for a woman’s hand.

They also have identified a wheel hoe that reduces back strain and adjusts to individual body size.

They also mentioned scythes, which are an amazing tool and can be ordered to fit your body from places like Scythe Supply.

Moving beyond tool selection, women need to redesign their techniques if we want to keep work-related injuries to a minimum.

Ann says the Number One rule is VARY YOUR TASKS.

We all get obsessed with finishing a job, but she says we are much better served by alternating between tasks.  Don’t do any task for hour after hour.  Find ways to break jobs into sections and switch tasks regularly.

We also know the correct way to lift heavy things.  We need to follow the rules about:

  • Using your legs instead of your back
  • Bend at the knees
  • Keep your back straight
  • Lift straight upward
  • Don’t lift when you are really tired
  • Women – try not to lift more than 35 pounds.  Our joints are looser, and we are more prone to sprains and strains.

That same loose joint thing makes us more prone to injury from heavy vibration with tools like rototillers and brush mowers.  Yes, I know, these tools cannot be completely avoided, but try to use break up the amount of time working with them and alternate with soothing, or at least different tasks.

A call for hands in the room found that almost every woman there was already familiar with herniated discs, chronic back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, bursitis and tendonitis.

Learn some basic principles of body mechanics.

Check out Angie Hissong’s Shoveling 101

Watch Jennifer Hess’s slideshow on Ergonomics for Women in the Trades

Ann urged everyone to start a yoga practice.  I couldn’t agree more.

What are your favorite mantras for good body mechanics?  Have you had work related injuries?  What’s your strategy to avoid more injuries?

5 replies

  1. I’m so sorry to hear of your health challenges in the past several weeks. I hope that you’re making steady progress and working on restoring your immune system. I appreciate this tip on a source for good tools. I’m fairly tall (although shrinking with age!), so I’ve always believed I could just use whatever men used. However, I’m nowhere near as strong as men, especially now that I’ve been sick with Lyme disease for a few years. Perhaps it’s time to reconcile with the fact that I’m different. Varying tasks is the best advice for me…that’s why I call myself a zigzag gardener.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I’m tall too, and have always prided myself on being able to do more physical work than the average woman my age. I have also tried (without success) to keep up with my husband – and paid a price in injuries over the years.
    We are built differently. One of the points I took away from the presentation was that our joints are more flexible, and consequently more vulnerable.
    At this point, I just want to keep doing as much as I can for as long as I can, and I’m becoming very willing to make whatever accommodations that requires.

  3. Hi Denise, Love your blog, it’s so informative. So sorry about your health problems. What’s the saying? When it rains it pours! Well, rain can’t last forever. Keep blogging. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Lorijo
    All this time under the weather has certainly been a new experience for me, but I am now really getting into the recuperation process, gathering up the strands of my life and regaining my health and strength. Pneumonia doesn’t let go easy, but every step in the right direction feels good.

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