Women's Work

Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger of Green Heron Tools.

By Therese Ciesinski

Photography by Mitch Mandel


An online survey and female-only focus groups told Adams and Brensinger what they didn't like about the tools they used: too heavy, too long and awkward. Working with agricultural engineers and a specialist in ergonomics at Pennsylvania State University, they designed and tested various prototypes. The HERS shovel/spade hybrid that resulted features an angled blade because "women don't use a shovel the way men do," Adams says. "Men power straight down. Most women can't do that. Women put the shovel blade into the soil at an angle and take small bites."

Once they had a prototype, it was time to test the theory that a properly designed shovel is less tiring to use. Subjects donned oxygen sensors to measure the energy expended using the HERS shovel prototype versus others, and started digging. The proof was in: HERS required less effort.

HERS weighs less than 4 1/2 pounds and comes in three shaft lengths. Its foot tread is larger than the norm. The hollow, D-shaped handle is tilted for leverage and textured to reduce slippage. Every part of the shovel is sourced and made in the United States. If HERS is a success, the pair will develop more long-handled tools.

Next on the women's list: redesigning the rototiller. In a survey, female farmers said it was one of the most frustrating tools to use.

Adams and Brensinger didn't start Green Heron Tools to get rich, but to fulfill a vocation: to make women's lives easier and better, and to bring more women back to the land. "It's a public health issue," Adams says. "If women can garden without pain or risk of injury, they can garden longer. I want to be able to garden for the rest of my life," she says. Millions of women hope they will be able to, as well.

Here's a video from the women of Green Heron Tools about the proper way to use a shovel: