Protect Our Bodies: Event Recap
Updated: Nov 12, 2018
At the volunteer work day in April of this year, with our heads in the dirt, a group of Women in Hort were brainstorming new event ideas. Our idea was that since we all want to be in the physical aspect of horticulture for the long haul we should create a program that teaches us how to protect our biggest horticulture asset; our bodies. After months of planning, emails, sponsor requests, an in-person meeting, phone meetings, event space reserved, parking reserved, invitations sent, RSVPs recorded, and coffee prepared we made that idea into a reality!
This is what makes Women in Hort a valuable resource for our community. We have the flexibility and the bold volunteers to try to turn member ideas into a reality. Charlotte Kidd and Carol Long were up to the challenge of making this event happen. They contacted vendors for tool samples including Green Heron Tools, Empowered Yoga, Dramm, and Fiskars. Fiskars provided a full Power Gear2 series to test drive and give away. Empowered Yoga gave a free class to every attendee. Dramm went above and beyond providing a complete rainbow of hose wands, nozzles, snippers, watering timers, gardening aprons and fertilizers! Fiskars and Dramm ensured that everyone that attended this event left with a great new tool. With that generous sponsor support we were ready for the big day!
The day started with an introduction to our presenters: Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger, co-founders of Green Heron Tools, Charlotte Kidd of In the Garden with Charlotte, and Carol Long Curator of Gardens at Winterthur. Carol shared that she has been at Winterthur for over 20 years, and hopes to be gardening into her 90s. She has completed training as a yoga instructor, and works out at Empowered Yoga before work every morning completing their "Balanced Athlete" program. The goal of this class is to improve functional movement and strength. Both great assets in horticulture! When planning for this event, Carol made a quip that when she is working she likes to ask herself "How would an Egyptian do this?" We found that to be a more light-hearted approach to the old adage "Work smarter, not harder."
Charlotte Kidd has been in horticulture since she was 16 years old! Her background in education and journalism eventually lead her owning her own horticulture and garden coaching company, In the Garden with Charlotte. Although Charlotte says she has been "falling in love with horticulture for 40 years"! Charlotte also stays active and chooses Swim-ercise classes to keep her lower body strong and minimize impact to her knees. Charlotte has overcome back, wrist, and knee issues that she credits excellent physical therapy and activity with her recovery.
Our wonderful guests from Green Heron Tools, Ann and Liz, drove almost two hours to make this event. Ann and Liz are 74 and 60 years young respectively, and could out garden me any day. Ann's relationship with ergonomics started when she was 17 years old working as a nurse. Hospitals were spending incredible resources to compensate for worker injury due to lifting and moving patients. To combat this issue the hospital that Ann worked at required ergonomic training of all their staff. Ann credits this early training with her effortless ability to maintain good form when working.
Liz (pictured left) the other half of Green Heron Tools, has always had the nature bug, but got into ergonomics later than Ann. Like Charlotte Kidd, journalism was also part of Liz's multifaceted career path to horticulture. Liz's experience also includes; managing an HIV program at a public health department, university instructor, and market grower. Her experiences combined with Green Heron's mission have helped secure four Small Business Innovation Grants with USDA. These grants have been critical to the research that goes into each of the Green Heron Products, and the numerous ergonomic and form resources available on their website. www.greenherontools.com
After each of these powerhouses shared their introductions we went into the sunshine, read that as "intense sunshine", to put some of our speakers' theories into practice. Carol Long introduced us to the concept of the "hip hinge", keeping our knees over our ankles when lifting, and the super-low squat (Carol demonstrating pictured left). One of my big take away messages from Carol was to vary positions when working. When you are weeding this could look like: squatting down, kneeling, doing the super-low squat, kneeling on one leg with foot flat (switch sides), and kneeling on one leg with the foot flexed (switch sides).
Charlotte Kidd lead a section on how to warm up your body for gardening. I fell in love with this concept when Charlotte said that some of the exercises could be completed in bed. Spine alignment, twists, and constant checking in with the core were my take away messages from this segment. Charlotte also demonstrated that to lift and move something with the best form, and to minimize injury, you should engage in a standard squat: knees not extending beyond toes, core and glutes engaged, with hips going back. From there you stare at the object to move and ensure your shoulders are square with it. Pick up the object and bring it to your chest (this brings the weight in line with your center of gravity). If you need to move the object to one side; move your whole body to that direction. Do not twist.
Weight + twisting = increased injury risk.
One of the resources Charlotte used to prepare content for the event was "Gardening Your Way to Health and Fitness." It can be found in most libraries, and although it appears a little dated, the exercises and stretches shown are still up to date and helpful.
Ann spoke next for Green Heron, and even with the greenhouse fans blaring we got her message clearly; take care of yourself and analyze what you are doing and why you are doing it. She told us to invest in our own mental and physical health. Enjoy your time in nature or the garden, and be healthy about it. Take the time to put on sunscreen, and find a great garden hat that shades your face and the back of your neck. Skin cancer is a real risk in our field. She also shared with us that agriculture above all other occupations has the highest risk of Muscular Skeletal Disorders (MSDs). By practicing self care, keeping yourself fit during all seasons, and carefully planning how you are going to work you can minimize these risks.
Our group moved to the University of Delaware Botanic Garden's giant mulch and brush pile for our favorite part of the day: the tool test drive! Liz lead us through the basics of how Green Heron's tools are designed, and why they stock the products they choose to stock. We were simultaneously amazed when Liz demonstrated the Florian Ratcheting Mini Lopper. She cut through a 1.5" diameter branch with ease. Liz is 60. That was amazing!
Pictured right: Anita with her new pair of Florian loppers.
The HERshovels that Green Heron designs were equally impressive. There are three sizes of shovels to choose from based on the user's height. That in itself is great, but there is also a large, but not-too-large looped handle at the top with a textured grip. A 1-1.5" tread on the top of the shovel to maximize the strength a woman had in her lower body. The most amazing part was that the shovel itself is angled. Liz stated that this angle came about after a researcher they were working with analyzed hours of footage of different women digging. He told Green Heron that "women dig incorrectly", so they need to be taught how to dig properly. Ann and Liz's response was "No, women dig differently. How about we make a tool that works with how women actually dig." Fast forward through a lot of hard work, and the HERshovel was born.
Green Heron even donated a HERshovel to one lucky attendee! That winner was Denise, pictured below, and she looks pretty happy with her prize.
As you can see by the length of this post it was a whirlwind day. We covered too many topics to be adequately discussed or demonstrated in three hours, but it is a start of future conversations, digging and moving in healthier ways, and of course it was a lot of fun! Thanks to all of the attendees for our first 100% RSVP attendance, our dedicated panelists, and the wonderful hosts of the event; the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens.