Green Heron Tools Blog

Farming & gardening injuries prevalent but preventable

We’re very pleased to feature this guest blog, originally written for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture . . . 

By Tara Caimi

When it comes to farming and gardening, danger may not be the first word that comes to mind. But according to Katie College, farmer at Stony Creek Valley Farm in Dauphin County, PA, the risk of injury is probably higher than most people think.

Since getting into farming approximately nine years ago, Katie has learned many lessons, which she shares in her other role as motivational speaker on the topic of farming as an encore career. Katie talks about the physical and emotional tolls of entering farming without having a background or history in it.

“I came into farming sideways,” she says, having started smaller with homesteading. “I wanted my kids to learn about raising food and respect for the environment and land.” As production on her homestead increased over the years, Katie’s farming aspirations grew, but she acknowledged her physical limits from the beginning.

With a degree in music education, Katie started out as a teacher. In her 40s, she suffered an injury that required her to wear a back brace for six months. By the time she considered farming full time, she knew she’d have to approach it from a different perspective. “I started out farming as not a perfectly healthy and fit 50-year-old, so the whole concept of health was on my mind,” she says.

The Weight of Farming

Some farmers, especially those who grew up in farming families and people entering at a young age, don’t view the work with their long-term health in mind. “I have many friends who grew up in farming and they’re so nonchalant about it. They just do what they do, and I think, wow that’s a long-term shoulder injury waiting to happen,” says Katie.

According to Liz Brensinger, co-owner of Green Heron Tools, which specializes in designing ergonomically appropriate tools for women, injuries resulting from heavy lifting are a major concern. “Whether it’s feed bags or large hay bales, or buckets that are full of milk or water or whatever; it’s just really hard on women,” she says.


Fencing & gates are among many heavy items farmers need to lift

In an online survey of a cross section of almost 300 women livestock farmers across the country, says Liz, “Forty percent of respondents reported having some kind of injury that interfered with their ability to do their work on the farm or take care of their animals, and almost in every case in our survey, it was some sort of musculoskeletal disorder.” She added, “A lot of women made a specific connection between their injury and having to lift heavy stuff.”

Heavy lifting isn’t the only farm-related activity that poses danger. According to results of a Farm Safety Survey by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.”

Just as important as the physical concerns, but perhaps more frequently overlooked, are the emotional and psychological aspects of farming. “I’ve had three batches of turkeys killed by foxes this year,” says Katie. “You feel guilty and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. These things all weigh on us and take a toll in ways that the supermarket [job] would not.”

She understands, from first-hand experience, the weight of responsibility that comes with farming. “We feed the world,” she says, stressing the inherent difficulty of prioritizing down time and self care.

“Rest is a four-letter word to a farmer,” she says. “I run into so many people who think it’s a character flaw to sit down in the middle of the day. But machinery overheats and when it does, we let it rest for a while. We don’t let our own bodies do that.”

Your Number One Tool

Katie points out two dangerous perspectives: powering through a task and thinking it can’t be done. The best solutions—those that limit potential for injury while allowing desired goals to be reached—involve analyzing tasks and finding the most efficient ways to accomplish what needs to be done.

“When I started farming, I went to a feed store and they were loading the feed bags into the car. I said it’s going to take me a while to get these out. I couldn’t lift that 50-pound bag, but I could scoop half of it out at a time—the job could be broken down into increments.”

Sometimes tasks need to be altered according to a person’s abilities. “Just believing you can do it isn’t enough,” Katie says. “You have to approach it honestly and logically.”

Heavy materials such as 50-pound bags of animal feed create lifting & transport challenges

Heavy materials such as 50-pound bags of animal feed create lifting & transport challenges

It all boils down to the individual, self-knowledge and the tasks required for any given job. “We’re all different,” says Katie. Based on years of experience and countless interactions, it is clear that there is no “prescription” or one-size-fits all solution. Physical abilities are bound to change over time.

“At my age, I know I can’t do the heaviest type of work I do on three consecutive days,” says Katie. “I can do two days. It comes down to knowing yourself and your limitations.”

For both Katie and Liz, injury prevention is the key to a long and healthy lifestyle in farming. At Green Heron Tools, Liz and her partner, Ann Adams, focus on scientifically designing tools that function well for women and, by extension, help to prevent injuries.

“Women play a huge role in food production worldwide, and women’s bodies are so different than men’s.” Women, for example, have less upper body strength and are more susceptible to vibrations. “People say that they [farming tools] were designed for the average person,” says Liz, “but the average person is a man.”

The results of women using tools designed for different body types include everything from less efficiency to a range of musculoskeletal and other types of injuries. Considerations when choosing a tool, whether it is for farming or gardening, according to Liz, include height, grip, weight and anything that contributes to the best body fit for the individual.

“We spent almost two years on research and development to come up with our shovel [a shovel-spade hybrid scientifically designed for women],” she says. “We joke that it’s the most researched shovel in all the world, but it might be true.”

Still, Liz acknowledges that the most fundamental element of staying healthy while farming or gardening does not have to do with equipment. “Your body is your number one tool,” she says.

Sustainable Farm, Sustainable Farmer

Prioritizing self care is easier said than done, even for someone who touts the importance. “I’m very resistant to doing good things for myself,” says Katie. That’s why I speak on this topic, and it’s why I say I’m not a role model. I’m on the same journey—a fellow traveler.”

She constantly reminds herself of the long-term goals and how her actions today will affect her abilities down the road. “When I’m pushing myself too hard, I think, wait. Will I be able to do this for 20 years? Will I be able to dance at my grandson’s wedding?”

Sustainability is a key motivator for Katie. “I think about how passionate we all are about the word sustainable,” she says, “but what do we apply it to—water, soil, overall environment? We don’t often apply it to our own selves.”

She adds, “If I’m not taking care of myself long term, then I’m really not understanding what sustainable means.”

For those resistant to the idea of self care, Katie speaks in terms of economics. “An injured farmer is an unproductive farmer,” she says. She doesn’t get many arguments about that.

Bartering for Good Health

Stretching is 1 of many wellness activities useful to farmers & gardeners

Stretching is one of many wellness activities beneficial to farmers & gardeners

Katie employs a team of experts to address her particular health needs and advises others to do the same. Components of the team will vary from person to person and may include a primary care physician, massage therapist, personal trainer or chiropractor. “We swap/barter services,” she says of some of her team members, making the approach more affordable.

Community is also important. “People who go into farming from another career—as I did and so many people do nowadays—it’s especially important they find people they can talk to and lean on and learn from. You have to find your tribe,” she says.

Liz stresses the value in varying tasks, especially for gardeners. “Don’t do any one thing for too long, and don’t stay in any one position for too long,” she says. “Do something standing up for a while—do some pruning. Switch it up.”

She adds that weeding is potentially harmful for gardeners. “Sometimes I’ll weed sitting down, or I’ll weed on my knees. The worst position is bent over at your waist.” Of course, using the right tools for your body type, according to Liz, is crucial.

“You don’t necessarily notice when a piece of equipment is wearing down because it happens over time,” says Katie, “and that’s what we allow to happen to our bodies.”

Though going back in time and changing her actions to improve future health isn’t an option, Katie knows from experience that it’s never too late to adjust mindsets and habits moving forward.

“I’m running a 40-member CSA [community supported agriculture operation], and I’m old and I don’t have all the right tools. But I’m looking at it a piece at a time, so I can do it,” she says. “Once you’re honest about yourself and what you can do, that’s where the magic really starts.”

Ahhh . . . . Springtime! (??!?!?)

Unfortunately, spring seems to have lost its way to eastern Pennsylvania. Last night the thermometer read 23 degrees. Our peach, Asian pear and sour cherry trees are ready to pop. It will be a while before we know for sure how the current extremes in temperature will affect the fruit we hope to harvest, but an even bigger concern is how it will impact the local orchardists’ harvests. Here is a link that will help you determine what impact these freezing temperatures may have on your specific fruit trees: .

Peach blossom, the morning after 23-degree temps

Peach blossom, the morning after 23-degree temps

What a lesson in learning how few things in life we can control. Three deep breaths and letting go and accepting I have no control over the weather. It seems Mother Nature wants to remind all of us.

Last week during a warm spell, I put in the brassica (broccoli and Brussels sprouts) and covered them with row covers to prevent our free-range chickens from digging them up. Actually we have to cover everything with row covers or the chickens will dig up anything we plant.

Weeding with chickens (different season, same results!)

Weeding with chickens (different season, same results!)

But they are sooooo cute when I am weeding and cultivating. They stay very close to where I am working and eat every grub I uncover.

Back to the brassica!  I expected the plants would be doing well but then last weekend we had high winds sustained at 30-35 mph gusting up to 60 mph. The winds combined with temperatures in the 20s did a job on the immature plants, which I had started in February in the basement. I am not sure any of the plants will make it, but I will look forward to putting in a fall crop. So glad I left the lettuces, parsley, thyme, kale, mustards and onions in the basement. They have communicated to me they are ready to head for the great outdoors, but, as any good mother would be, I am resistant to release them yet. Sometimes mother know best. — Ann

The most wonderful time of the year

seed catalogs 2016

a few of our favorite catalogs

It’s Jan. 31, 2016, and our seed orders are in! We’re busier than ever, yet we beat last year’s seed-ordering date by a good three weeks. How come? Let’s just say we needed it! As every gardener or grower knows, poring through seed catalogs & finding new & exciting varieties is one of the highlights of the year. Harvesting & tasting them, of course, is yet another (at least we hope so :-) So while Green Heron Tools keeps us very busy, planning for our 2016 garden reminds us of why we started the business in the first place. Our garden/farm tool company grew out of our love for gardening/farming. And when we’re feeling stressed or overworked, what better way to put things in their proper perspective than to page through catalogs, imagining the sun on our backs, the dirt under our fingernails, and the unparalleled taste of just-picked produce on our tables?

This year, though, I was determined to be reasonable. In fact, my plan was to reduce the number of tomato plants we plant (22 last year, only a fraction of the 60+ when we were market growers). So maybe, just maybe, I’d try one new variety this year.

HA! Twenty-four hours later, I’ve got no fewer than six new tomato varieties on order — all heirlooms, several of them rare . . .like Carol Chyko’s Big Paste, for example. “Family heirloom from Carol Chyko’s family in Hazleton, PA,” reads the description on Gary Ibsen’s TomatoFest website. “Seeds first introduced by Bill Ellis in 1988. Very large 1-3 lbs., blunt, heart-shaped, crimson red, meaty tomato with delicious flavors and very few seeds. Too much juice to really be considered a paste tomato. Better for slicing into sandwiches than a sauce tomato, though because of the good flavors and the big crops I have made wonderful sauces from this variety. WINNER of large tomato contests. Rare.” How could I resist? Especially because Hazleton is less than an hour north of here.

A little weird to be buying the seed from California, though, isn’t it?

And how had I found Gary Ibsen’s? Carbon, one of our very favorite tomatoes, was on back-order at Baker Creek. So I Googled Carbon seeds, and ended up at Gary’s. Turns out he has a $15 minimum order. Who ever heard of THAT? Yet who can resist perusing a website billing itself as “A Celebration of Heirloom Tomato Varieties from Around the World”? Not I, obviously. I satisfied the $15 minimum painlessly, ordering Long Tom, another heirloom paste variety I’d never heard of, as well as Jaune Flamme, a French heirloom that’s one of our favorites & that we needed to reorder anyway. Also Italian Heirloom, a variety we usually purchase from Seed Savers Exchange. (Sorry, Seed Savers — though don’t worry, we bought some seeds from you, too!)

Then there were two other new varieties, both from Fedco Seeds, a Maine co-op from which we purchase the majority of our seeds each year: Opalka, a paste tomato from Poland, and Weisnichts Ukrainian, described as a rare & extremely tasty heirloom. And True Black Brandywine, sold by Baker Creek, sent there by famed seed collector and food writer William Woys Weaver, who’s an hour or so south of us in Pennsylvania and whom we had the great pleasure of meeting a number of years ago. The TBB seed was passed down to him from his Quaker grandfather’s collection dating back to the 1920s.

Finally, there’s Goldmans’ Italian-American, named for tomato writer Amy Goldman. Finding it required another circuitous journey. One of our very favorite tomatoes is Prue, a rare variety whose seed we initially acquired 15 or so years ago from tomato

Sliced Prue -- yum yum!

Sliced Prue — yum yum!

guru Carolyn Male. (There’s a delectable pale yellow cherry tomato — Dr. Carolyn — named after her, available through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Highly recommended!) Previously available only through the Seed Savers Exchange yearbook, which facilitates the sale of a truly mind-boggling array of varieties by seed savers everywhere, Prue is the one and only variety for which we’ve saved our own seed. But making tiny bags out of insect barrier to use to cover the blossoms (cross-pollination prevention), hoping the covered blossoms bear fruit etc. can be a little tedious. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Prue were available commercially?

Low and behold, I discovered that it is! A quick internet search revealed three relatively small U.S. seed companies that sell Prue, only one of which I’d previously heard of. I’d bet a bushel of organic heirlooms that a search for commercial sources of Prue even two years ago would have turned up nothing — to me, another sign of the exciting growth in the market for open-pollinated, heirloom seeds. I chose to buy from Amishland Heirloom Seeds – a small, previously-unknown-to-us company in nearby Lancaster County, started by a woman who’s a Penn State Master Gardener. I’ll plant some of her Prue and some of our own this year. Oh, and some of her Goldmans Italian-American, too.

Were there other things I should have done today, instead of writing on and on in this blog? You bet! But just like perusing the seed catalogs — and wandering around the internet in search of tomatoes — made me happy, so too did writing about it. :-)

May your own journey toward spring be equally circuitous, with no end to the wondrous seeds discovered along the way!

Savoring a late-season bounty

Somehow, an entire growing season has come and gone since we last blogged. Suffice it to say that it’s been a packed year for us here at Green Heron Tools / Green Heron Farms. More on that later (maybe :-)
Garden fresh carrots nov 2015For now, morning temperatures are in the high 20s, Thanksgiving is a mere two days away, and the holiday shopping season is all-but upon us. In the garden, we’re harvesting the very last bounty from 2015 — kale, chard & carrots. If you, too, are lucky enough to have a late-season crush of carrots, here’s a fabulous and easy recipe to enjoy them, courtesy of Bon Appetit. As posted, the recipe yields four servings, but we love this soup so much that we always make a double batch.

Carrot-Coconut Soup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (we used salted last night, because that’s what we had!)

1 pound carrots, chopped (ours are garden-fresh organic, so we didn’t peel them)

1 medium onion, chopped

salt & freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chicken stock

1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons Thai-style chili sauce (Sriracha)* — we reduce this to 1 1/2 T

fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrots & onion, season with salt & pepper, and cook, stirring often, until carrots are softened — 15-20 minutes. Stir in broth, coconut milk, and chili sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and liquid is slightly reduced, 40-45 minutes.

Let soup cool slightly, then puree in a blender until smooth — or use an immersion blender while still in the pot. If needed, reheat. The recipe calls for thinning with water to desired consistency, but we’ve never found this necessary. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with cilantro, and ENJOY!carrot soup

* A note about the chili sauce: In our experience, Sriracha is as much about the flavor as it is about the heat. Despite being quite spicy, this soup doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds. Rather, the sweetness of the carrots seems to be enhanced by the heat. And you won’t end up feeling like your lips / mouth have been burned, as can happen with some hot sauces.


The costs of doing business

It’s a beautiful winter day in eastern Pennsylvania — bright blue & cloudless sky, birds swarming the feeders, snow flecked with the coal-black shells of countless sunflower seeds, and the temperature — yet again — solidly below freezing. Yet spring IS coming! Chicken in the SnowWe feel it in the radiant heat of the sun, strong enough to melt ice even though the thermometer suggests it couldn’t. We know it in the blessedly longer days, and see it in the wild eyes of our chickens, cooped up too long and relishing fresh air and the chance to fly over snow piles to alight on dry macadam.

Spring promises to be both exciting and productive, with the introduction of our brand new digging fork — HERSpadingfork™, companion to HERShovel™ — and continued beta testing of our tiller. More on both of those, soon.

For now, though, a few thoughts on the business of business. Since starting to sell tools in late 2009, we’ve learned more than we could ever have imagined about what it means to be a small business — in our case, a really small business. On the positive side, it means the opportunity to build genuine relationships with customers; the freedom to follow our own hopes, dreams, principles and philosophies; and the opportunity to play a role in creating an economy that is truly sustainable.

On the more challenging side, it means being at a disadvantage in the economy of scale. If you’re selling 100,000 widgets, you can buy them from the manufacturer (or make them yourself) for a much lower price than if you’re selling 150. And if you’re selling 100,000, you can afford to sell them for a lower price and still make enough money to keep you and your business thriving. For small businesses like us and most of our suppliers, the profit margins are lower and the ability to charge rock-bottom prices and survive – let alone thrive! — isn’t an option.

Then there’s the matter of shipping (!). At the start of 2015, FedEx and UPS fundamentally changed the way they charge for ground shipments, resulting in what has been described as the largest rate increase in history. Essentially, both carriers now charge based on “dimensional weight”; larger (but not giant) packages, especially those that are relatively light, got hit with the highest rate hikes.

I’ve seen it described as the “Amazon effect”: An astronomical number of items are purchased online and shipped each day, many of them in boxes much larger than necessary. FedEx and UPS, their trucks and planes crammed with packages full of “air”, alter their rates accordingly.

On one level, it makes perfect sense. But for us, “dim-weight” is a three-edged sword: Our tools tend to be light, because light, good quality tools are better for women; our signature items, HERShovel™ and now HERSpadingfork™, are large AND light; and our boxes are custom-made to fit them. Our ability to mitigate the rate hike, in other words, is almost nil. Meanwhile, those super-sized shippers — some of the very ones who got us into this problem in the first place — are so big that they can negotiate much better shipping rates than we and our fellow small businesses can.

So this, in a nutshell, is why businesses like ours cannot compete with the Amazons of the world on price.

But we can and do bring value in other ways, including:

  • Manufacturing our own tools here in the USA
  • Charging fair, consistent prices
  • Providing the very best customer service, including being accessible to you via phone or email
  • Selling only the highest quality products
  • Continually exploring options for the best-possible shipping options
  • Bringing our tools to you at events throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and working to get HERShovel™ into more brick-&-mortar stores, closer to you
  • Promoting the health and wellness of farmers & gardeners via resources on our website, workshops at conferences and other events, and a continual search for new products to make our lives easier
  • Being true to our mission, ourselves, and your trust in us

That’s it — the best we can do. And to those of you for whom it’s enough, we say, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!




Dig this! The seeds of new tools germinating

Spring 2014 saw a whirlwind of activity at Green Heron Tools; in these early days of summer, our heads are still spinning :-)

First, an update on our tiller, now well over 3 years in development: As many of you know, we were fortunate enough to receive a USDA Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant in 2010 that funded development of an alternative to the walk-behind rototiller. A redesigned tiller was the highest priority of women farmers who participated in an online survey we posted for > a year, and in focus groups and interviews we heard numerous horror stories about the vibration, weight, difficult maneuverability and general orneriness of conventional tillers. It’s been our goal to design and produce a piece of equipment that’s gentler on the operator, the Earth and the soil, and though it’s taken longer than we’d ever have imagined, we are well on the way to succeeding!

Liz Wagner with tillerAfter producing some 20 iterations of what are called “engineering” or “alpha” prototypes (custom-built and often crude machines that test a concept but are worlds away from something that could be mass-produced), we have now graduated to the world of “beta” prototypes. These are machines that are close to what the manufactured version will be, and to build them we’ve teamed up with Specialty Fabrication, a wonderful company and true partner located in Honey Brook, PA. SpecFab’s location means that we can load the tiller in the back of the Subaru and be there in an hour — a great asset when it comes to the ongoing process of testing & tweaking a beta prototype.

Now that our patent applications are all on file, we’re finally able to post a photo of the machine — that’s our beta-2, being tested by local farmer Liz Wagner — and tell you a little about the machine. It uses a brand-new technology — coiled conical blades somewhat similar to augers that till / cultivate and pull the machine forward — is battery-powered (no exhaust in your face, pull-string to struggle with or gas to spill when you transport it on its side like we do :-), has essentially no vibration, and is lighter and far easier to maneuver than a conventional walk-behind tiller. We’ll soon be getting our beta-3, a much more polished, photogenic version that we’ll then be testing like crazy to make sure it’s up to the rigors of years of use on farm or in garden.

Meanwhile, we’re also moving ahead with design of a digging fork that will incorporate many of the features of our popular HERShovel, including our patented ergonomic grip, three shaft sizes to match user height, and a better way to capitalize on lower-body strength. More soon on the partnership that will make this fork possible — and that will hopefully get the fork into your hands by year’s end.

And finally, we’re excited to be transitioning much of the manufacture and assembly of HERS over to SpecFab, which will ensure continued high quality of our signature product.

Whew! See why our heads have been spinning?

Enjoy these early weeks of summer! And as all the best bloggers say, we’ll be keeping you posted :-)

Featured Product – The Valley Oak Wheel Hoe

As farm/garden tool designers, we may have a bias for tools developed by people who do farm/garden work, but the Valley Oak Wheel Hoe has so much going for it, it’s hard to know where to begin. So let’s start by acknowledging the thoughtful work of David Grau, an organic vegetable farmer and founder of Valley Oak Tools in Chico, CA. We love that David shares a passion for sustainability, ergonomics and local food and that he so clearly values quality and durability.

The Valley Oak Wheel Hoe is a universally great tool for small farms and gardens. Women, in particular, will love this versatile tool because it’s…
Liz with Valley oak wheel hoe

  • Lightweight, less than 15 lbs. and easy to control; comfortable enough for all day operation (though we always suggest changing up tasks throughout the day)
  • Easy to assemble and change attachments; the cam lever adjusts the handle height quickly, no tools needed. The attachments are put on and removed with the simple release of a pin.
  • The handles are close together, at 16”, which makes it easier on the shoulders, especially for people with smaller frames
  • It’s efficient, the user essentially weeds by walking — what could be more efficient than that?!
  • No more bending or getting down on your knees to weed
  • It’s quiet


More good stuff:

wheel hoe closeupfurrower

The wheel hoe is multipurpose – weeds, makes furrows and loosens compacted soil and moves closely alongside fences and edging to clear weeds.  It’s built with sustainability in mind, requires no fossil fuels to operate and is American made. It would be tough to lose the powder-coated, bright blue attachments in the field. The less than $300 invested will easily come back to you in time and pain/strain free garden work.

What Green Heron Tools’ customers are saying:

“I used the Valley Oak wheel hoe all season and it was by far my favorite cultivating hoe. It’s durable, takes a beating, and was death on weeds. Being 5’10”, it is so wonderful to have a tool that doesn’t break my back after use on several beds. Thank you Green Heron Tools!” — Victoria Ligon, 2011 apprentice, The Seed Farm, Lehigh County, PA

“Indestructible, adjustable handles, lightweight, easy-to-change implements, the most valuable tool on my farm!” –- Elizabeth H., North Carolina (online survey respondent)

“Adjustable, can get your weight behind it instead of up in the air above shoulder height as in the others I’ve used, plus great attachments! Awesome for a short woman. . . .We use this wheel hoe a lot and love it!” — Sherri S., non-profit farming collective, California (online survey respondent & , later, interview subject)

“My favorite tool” –- Angela T., Iowa farmer (focus group participant)

Buy Green Heron Tool's HERS shovel-spade hybrid


For more info, check out the links:

Considering purchasing the wheelhoe? Our frequently asked questions page is a great place to find out how to decide on blade size, get the right attachments and pneumatic or steel tire and how best to operate the tool:

What sets the VOWH apart from other wheel hoes:

Maintenance and use:

Weeding demonstration:
Ann, co-owner of Green Heron Tools demonstrates weeding, while Liz, co-owner, provides commentary:

New! At a glance: Why our tools work well for women

When we started Green Heron Tools in 2008 — and when we sold our very first product late in 2009 — ours was the only company we could find, anywhere, dedicated to providing gardening and farming equipment that truly worked well for women. We chose our tools based on function, not flowers, and practicality, not pink :-) We wanted tools that fit women’s bodies, were safe and comfortable to use, and did the job they were meant to do, as efficiently and effectively and long-lastingly as possible.

Fast forward to 2013, and a handful of other companies now say they offer garden tools for women. Do they really? We’re not sure, mostly because they don’t back up their claims with specific information about what, in fact, makes their tools “for women.”

Their omission got us thinking: How could we make it even easier for our customers to know what makes OUR products work well for women? After all, talk is cheap. Accurate and accessible information, on the other hand, is worth its weight in heirloom tomatoes — or maybe even gold.

These symbols show what we mean by "tools that work well for women"

These symbols show what we mean by “tools that work well for women”

After lots of thought and some creative help from our web designer / graphic artist, Christie, here’s what we came up with: a system of five symbols that hopefully will let anyone visiting our website see, at a glance, why a particular product  “works well for women” — why it is that among the mind-boggling array of tools on the marketplace, we’ve chosen to sell this one.

These new symbols are explained in the Welcome to Our Online Store page, as is our general approach to choosing tools. The symbols that apply to each product are displayed on the far right of the “description” tab for that tool or piece of equipment or apparel. Roll over a symbol to see whaat it meansHold your mouse pointer over the symbol, and its meaning will magically appear :-)

To see which symbols apply to our own shovel, HERS™, click “Buy Now” to bring up the description tab. (Spoiler alert: HERS™ is the only product that gets all 5, because as far as we know it remains the only agricultural tool scientifically designed explicitly for women).

We hope that adding these symbols will make our website even more user-friendly. We also hope that we’ve earned your trust and will continue to do so. “Tools for women” isn’t a marketing ploy for us — it’s the heart and soul of what we do.

As always, we invite your comments via email ( or phone (610-844-5232). And we thank you for your interest and support!

Ann and Liz — Liz Brensinger & Ann Adams, owners, Green Heron Tools / head gardeners, cooks & carrot washers, Green Heron Farms

The perfect late-summer pizza

It would be hard to overstate the size of our harvest this year (!). Just back from the Independent Garden Center show in Chicago last week, we’re hustling to cook, can, freeze, share, EAT all the delicious tomatoes and other produce that were busy . . . uh . . . producing while we were gone. Here’s another of our favorite late-summer recipes. Sauce and topping amounts are enough for two pizzas, so we always enjoy one and freeze the other for later. Enjoy!

Pizza Santa Fe Style, courtesy of Renee Shepherd & Fran Raboff’s book More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden

One 12-inch commercial pizza crust, ready to bakepizza santa fe cropped


1 1/2 c. lightly packed cilantro leaves

1/2 c. lightly packed parsley leaves

2 cloves garlic

1 jalapeno chile, halved, seeded

1 scallion, cut in pieces (we used onion instead)

1 T lemon juice

1/2 c. olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


2 anaheim or other mild green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch strips (we used poblanos, for a bit hotter taste)

5 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, sliced (or substitute green tomatoes, as we did this year)

4 small plum tomatoes, sliced and drained on paper towels

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

salt & freshly ground pepper

1 T chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 t. dried

2 c. grated jack cheese

Combine all sauce ingredients except salt & pepper in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pizza crust on a large baking sheet. Brush the shell with the sauce. Arrange strips of chiles, radiating out from the center. Arrange slices of tomatillos, tomatoes and red onions in between. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and oregano. Top with grated cheese and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until edges are crisp, and serve hot.

2 stellar recipes for a stellar eggplant year

It’s been a strange summer here in eastern Pennsylvania — flooding rains, super-hot temperatures followed almost immediately by an unseasonable  return to “autumn” . . . in other words, a banner year for some crops and a challenging one for others.

Rosa bianca egglplant

Rosa bianca egglplant

Square in the “challenging” category are our 15 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, whose flavor’s been good (though at times not as sweet as it could be, due, we think, to too much rain) but whose shoulders have cracked and scabbed due, we know, to too much rain. But it’s been the best year ever for sweet peppers and eggplants (!). Here are two of our favorite recipes for making good use of the latter, with a little help from the former . . .

Indian Roasted Eggplant Soupfrom Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special, by The Moosewood Collective

1/4 cup olive oil, more or less as desired

2 medium eggplants (about 2 lb.)

2 red bell peppers (about 3/4 lb.)

3 tomatoes (about 1 lb.)

sprinkling of salt and ground black pepper

1 3/4  c. reduced-fat coconut milk (1 14-oz. can) (we use high-test :-)

1 t. salt

1 1/2 to 3 cups water (we use veggie or chicken stock)

Spice mixture

2 t. olive oil

1/2 t. black mustard seeds

1 t. cumin seeds

1 t. ground coriander

1/4 t. ground cinnamon

1/8 t. ground cardamom

1/4 t. cayenne or red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly brush two baking sheets with some of the olive oil. Halve the eggplants and bell peppers lengthwise. Stem the tomatoes and halve them crosswise. Place all of the vegetables cut side up on the baking sheets. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 minutes, until dark brown and soft or, for a smoky flavor, even slightly charred. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2 gorgeous peppersMeanwhile, in a small skillet on medium heat, warm 2 t. of olive oil. Add the black mustard and cumin seeds and simmer until they begin to pop. Reduce heat to low and add the coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne or red pepper flakes. Stirring constantly, heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant, taking care not to burn the spices. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the roasted veggies are cool enough to handle, remove their skins. In batches in a blender, puree the vegetables with the coconut milk, salt, and enough water or stock to make the soup the thickness you like. Place the puree in a nonreactive soup pot and gently heat. Stir in half the reserved spice mixture and then add more to taste. (We usually add it all!)

Eggplant Parmesan, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

This is an easy, healthier version of traditional eggplant parmesan — no breading or frying but great taste!

2 medium eggplants, about 1 1/2 lb.

salt and freshly milled pepper

1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh tomato sauce (we use our regular marinara)

8 large basil leaves, torn into pieces

4 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced if fresh, grated otherwise

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a 2-quart gratin dish. Slice the eggplant into rounds about 1/3 inch thick. (We peel the eggplant too, to avoid any chance or hint of bitterness). Unless eggplant is garden fresh, sprinkle it with salt and let stand for 30 mins. to an hour, then blot dry.

Preheat the broiler. Brush both sides of each round with olive oil and broil 5 to 6 inches from the heat until browned. Broil the second side until browned, then remove and season lightly with salt and pepper. Don’t worry if the eggplant has a dry appearance.

Warm the tomato sauce with half the basil. Spread about a third of the sauce over the bottom of the dish, then make an overlapping layer of eggplant. Lay the mozzarella over the top, add the rest of the basil, and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Add the rest of the eggplant and cover it with the remaining sauce. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbling and hot throughout, about 30 minutes.



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