Farming tools by women, for women
by Lee Stabert
Women are pretty amazing and resourceful,” says Ann Adams, one half of the team behind Green Heron Tools, a company designing gardening and farming equipment specifically for women. “As long as women have been growing, we’ve been using tools and equipment that aren’t really right for us, making them work somehow. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t hurt ourselves in the process.”
Adams and her partner Liz Brensinger know this firsthand—they’ve been farming for over 10 years. In the mid-’90s, Adams’ son was having difficulty procuring specialized heirloom vegetables for his groundbreaking Lehigh Valley restaurant, Farmhouse. So Adams and Brensinger started growing produce part-time, supplying Farmhouse and selling at area farmers’ markets. “We sold everything we grew,” says Adams. “But the two of us couldn’t grow enough to actually sustain ourselves and my daughter because it was just two people.”
Both women have backgrounds in public health, including 15 years consulting for nonprofits, but wanted to move in a new direction—they were just looking for the right idea. “Going to the market with other women farmers, we talked about certain issues, and complained a lot about the tools—our biggest issue being the rotor tiller,” says Adams. “Lo and behold, we found other women with similar problems.”
They began investigating tools for women and were shocked by the paucity. “Recently, there has been a big increase in the number of women farmers, and obviously there is a huge number of women gardeners,” says Brensinger. “So, when we started looking into this, we assumed that there were things out there and that they just weren’t easily accessible. Instead, we discovered that no one had systematically, scientifically tried to develop agricultural tools and equipment that were right for women’s bodies.”
Thanks to a tip from a friend at Penn State, the pair won a grant and began an extensive research and development process. This involved working with engineers, but also conducting focus groups and surveys with fellow female farmers and gardeners across the country. The first product they’ve developed under the Green Heron brand is a shovel-spade hybrid that should be available this time next year.
In the interim, the company’s website focuses on products with the Green Heron stamp of approval—mainstream tools that work particularly well for women.