Women Farmers Turn Entrepreneurs

Women farmers must overcome the poorly fitted tools designed for an industry dominated by men.

| June 2016

  • The women powering Green Heron Tools: Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger.
    Photo by Lisa Kivirist
  • Sarah Calhoun of Red Ants Pants.
    Photo by Lisa Kivirist
  • “When Mother Nature gives you a blizzard, it’s time for the one-piece bodysuit. Somehow, your body leaks heat around the bottom of your coat, no matter how snug it is. With a bodysuit, like one from Carhartt, you stay significantly warmer. Just a law of physics, I suppose.” — MaryJane Butters, MaryJanesFarm, Moscow, Idaho
    Photo by Fotolia/Phodo Design
  • In “Soil sisters,” by Lisa Kivirist, you are taken into a conversation among friends that describes their struggles and success as women farmers.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Soil Sisters (New Society Publishers, 2016), by Lisa Kivirist, plows new ground and provides a wealth of invaluable information and resources for fledgling female farming entrepreneurs. As women in agriculture are sprouting up in record numbers, but they face a host of distinct challenges and opportunities. This excerpt introduces you to entrepreneurs that are customizing tools to fit women so they may work more efficiently.

You can purchase this book from the Capper's Farmer store: Soil Sisters.

Tools that Fit

The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” fits the story of Green Heron Tools. While the number of new women farmers continues to grow, you wouldn’t know it by the farm tools specifically designed for women in the retail aisle. Most items, from hand tools to larger equipment, are still designed for a male body that is taller and generally stronger. Enter Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger, female farmers turned entrepreneurs.

Avid gardeners for years, Adams and Brensinger started a small commercial farm operation as a new career venture in their early 50s to help supply Adams’s son’s restaurant in Pennsylvania. The duo quickly realized they lacked the proper tools too efficiently and safely farm at a scale they needed to be a viable, sustainable business. But whereas many of us female farmers would simply “make do” with our tool situation, these two embraced the opportunity to both launch an entrepreneurial enterprise and help champion this growing movement of women farmers by focusing on helping women farmers use their bodies properly through ergonomically appropriate tools. “Our first step involved researching what tools already existed for women farmers,” explains Adams. “We thought we could just collect what existed and perhaps put it all in one catalog.”

But to their surprise, they didn’t find any farm tools designed specifically for women. “We didn’t find anything other than a few so-called ‘ladies’ tools that were pink or flowered and usually flimsy, as if all women needed were ‘pretty’ tools. We found that pretty insulting,” Brensinger adds. “Nobody had ever considered that women would do better with tools designed specifically for our bodies... Women’s bodies work differently than men’s and we work better and safer with tools designed for our physiology.”

The duo launched Green Heron Tools. They had previously named their farm Green Heron Farms because a green heron nested on their property — quite serendipitously, as the green heron is the one of the few birds documented to use tools such as small sticks for tasks like fishing. “Follow your intuition and everything feels meant to be,” says Adams.



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