Monday, November 28, 2011

Balancing Work and Life

How could I see this workshop listed in the conference schedule and not go?  I've been complaining to (well myself because I don't get out enough)that my life isn't in balance.  I love what I do, but I never stop thinking or working or worrying when I get home and feel a little out of control.  I went in with high hopes for secrets to leading a more balanced life and I was not disappointed!
The workshop was co-lead by Maria van Hekken of Yes2Yes Leadership Coaching and Michael McDavid of Penn State Extension.  Both very engaging speakers with very different but complimentary styles.
 We went over daily stresses and things we can change in our inner and outer lives, from thoughts that stress us out to our daily responsibilities that seem never ending.  We were given advice on how to find ways to manage these stresses... what can we do everyday that would make a difference?  What are the major recurring problems and how can we make changes to balance them out or diffuse them?  And relax.  What are the positives??
We then went into the new pressures found at work nowadays with working parents, the internet and travelling and phones and how to be firm about not always being available.  What are the hours you can be reached and expect a response?  stand your ground.
This part was really great...finding the Work Life do we celebrate, have fun and achieve?  Mike introduced the Work-Life Matrix.  Find a way to make a chart of how often you work at work, work on weekends, nights, then focus on vacation time, holiday breaks, work at home days and time that you allow yourself total freetime like jogging, painting etc.  You can chart it using hours as the gage corresponding to weeks per month.  Upon looking at the end results and numbers, the question is " Are you okay with this?"  Upon reviewing a whole month rather than each day where youfeel like your running like crazy, at the end, are you?  Is this your life and is it okay?  what are the other perks?
I realized that although I work hard at the farm all day and come home and have emails to return and website updating and newsletters to write and seed orders and worry, worry worry;  I'm Happy.  If I need to sleep in one day, I can.  If I want to meet a friend for lunch, I can.  I can schedule a visit to the dermatologist and not have to ask permission.  I can make changes to my business and not feel like I will be affecting someone elses life or investment.  I feel free and even though I'm dedicated to my work, it's my choice.  I have choice.  And for me, that's a biggie!!  I feel like this matrix idea could really benefit a lot of people.
I was worried that in this class,we were going to have to get too personal and go around the room and share.  Instead they simply asked for volunteers to share stories, and I immediately raised my hand and so did many others!  I met a lot of wonderful people in that class that day and I am so glad that I attended.  I felt like I walked away with more power over my life and a lot more appreciation for what I have:)

Green Heron Tools presents "Farming for Life: Using Body mechanics and

Other Tools to Do What You Love Longer".  This discussion was led by Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger, who co-own and run Green Heron Tools.
I was interested in this class from the moment I read the title in the conference schedule.  I thought, Yup, I plan on farming for the long haul and I want my body to be on board too with a good aches and pains and whiney joints!  I really enjoyed this class;  I absolutely love it when someone recognizes a problem and works with a purpose to solve it using research and ingenuity, and then introduces the solution to the public in order to help others.  Not all talk or complaining, action and resolution, so cool.
First of all, both Ann and Liz are very calm and very relaxed presenters;  they relayed their backround and introduced the concept of their company clearly, with ease and with humour.  There was plenty of playful banter and laughter.
Liz and Ann had worked a market farm together for years growing beautiful produce.  After a time, they realized that the tools that they were using, for example the shovel, were not well suited for smaller bodies especially women's bodies.  They spoke of various farm tools and due the to the size and structure of that tool, how a smaller person was almost forced to use that tool incorrectly, or to lift in a way that would most certainly cause strains and damage to the body over time (if not immedietely!)
They segwayed here into the principles of good body mechanics; i.e how to use muscles correctly to compete a task in a safe and efficient manner.   We began by discussing the difference in body structure and center of gravity between men and women and then finding your center in order to maintain good posture and stability, especially when lifting and reaching.  We then moved into the proper techniques and body positions for activities we do everyday on the farm...reaching, lifting, shoveling, bending and laughed about how none of us do any of those activities properly and usually because we are in a rush to get everything done:)  All of this information led up to the formation of Green Heron Tools and what Ann and Liz have devoted the past several years to accomplishing.
Liz and Ann realized that most farming tools that are manufactured today are built for a person whose stature on average is larger than the average woman, with the exception of some tools that are built in Japan as the average person is smaller in stature.  And again, I liked the tone of this lecture, there wasn't any argument about manufacturers catering to men or that women aren't being recognized in the field of farming.  The issue, which falls in line with our overall health as a society, is that things started to fall apart when we got into mass production (tools, food) catering to the masses and lost sight of the value of the small producer and needs of the individual. Back in the day, you would have your tools forged and custom made for you and your body size.  It is impossible to manufacture a tool that is ergonomically structured for the average body size of both men and women.  Upon realizing this specific problem and with the rise of women in farming, they decided to conduct research on how to engineer a tool that would be ergonomically sound for women, of all sizes:)  They started with a shovel.
With the help of a grad student and a willing volunteer, they filmed hours of their friend shoveling and studyed how she used her body to accomplish this task.  They analyzed their research and with a team of experts and engineers, they came up with some very clever solutions and highly functional products.
(side note:  they mentioned that the use of the word "ergonomic" in the tool world is as overused/misused as the terms "organic" and "sustainable" in the farming world.  A lot of people are dropping those terms irresponsibly, so shop carefully!)
Green Heron Tools now produces and markets a shovel that has a shorter shaft, a wide mouth handle for when you need both hands on the end for leverage, and the option to have a handle mid-shaft for easier lifting and maneuvering and also so that you can keep your wrists in a neutral position, which they mentioned many times.  Not only that, but they sell the shaft handles separately, so that you can modify some of the tools you have at home.  Eventually, they hope to work on introducing a walk behind tiller that is better designed for women...that is something I personally look forward to!!
A nice end to our discussion was a floor stretch for our lower backs and this note...they had formed their business and had named it Green Heron, and then realized that Green Herons are one of the few birds, like crows, who actually will work with tools to get what they need.  How cool.
 I am very proud to have met these ladies and look forward to keeping up with them in the future!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Keynote address by Karen Washington

After a long day of learning, my SC ladies and I sat down for a reeeaallly yummy dinner with new friends and farmers from PA, NJ and Vermont.  I met a woman my age who grew up in the town next to mine in NJ, spoke with a woman raising lambs in PA, and several small farmers in VT-these ladies were so fun to hang out with.  Especially Diane Imrie who, as well as working on starting her own farm, co-authored a beautiful cookbook, "Cooking Close to Home".  The recipies are created around what veggies are fresh and in season (no cheating)!  It was such a pleasure meeting Diane!
We all shared success stories, discussed difficulties, explained our businesses to one another and definitely shared lots of laughter.  After dinner, our Keynote Speaker, Karen Washington, shared her story of finding a passion for growing, for fresh food and for creating change in her community.  She is the president and cofounder of the New York City Community Garden Coalition and the Black Urban Growers (BUGs), I love it!  The mission of these organizations, as she says, is "the preservation, creation, and empwerment of community gardens through education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing/" .  Karen travels to other cities as a Just Food Trainer and teaches about the role of food and agriculture in social justice issues.  I could keep listing her accomplishments, but you get the jist!  She is a powerful speaker with a great sense of humor, and is an inspiration as to how one person can influence change.   If I flew up just to hear this great woman speak, it would have been worth it!

Day one of the conference..

This year's Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference was held in beautiful State College, PA.   I flew up from SC along with my friends and fellow farmers, Stacy and Rebecca, who I met throught the Clemson New and Beginning Farmer Program.  We joined the conference in order to show support for Jennifer Boyles of Clemson who is creating SC WAgN; a Women's Agricultural Network for South Carolina.  We decided to divide and conquer, by choosing different workshops to attend and then to blog about our experiences and what we learned, so here's my story!
Day one was a tough choice!  We had the opportunity to go on two different farms tours in the beautiful Amish country of PA, with meals and beverages included or we could attend an intensive learning clinic on Tractor Operation and Maintenance.  As much as I love a farm tour, I chose the clinic,  as I may need to purchase a tractor soon, and certainly need to learn how to drive one and change out implements, etc. I've been hoping to attend a tractor  class locally for months now and so I jumped at this learning opportunity.
The class was led by four gentleman associated with the Ag Safety and Health Program out of Penn State.  These fellas, as they joke, have over 100 years of collective experience in this field and were patient and thorough instructors.
We began with an introduction to tractors from the center of gravity of a tractor and common mistakes that lead to accidents to learning and labeling the different parts; gears, filters and the engine in general.  We looked at the body of the tractor and were given handouts listing what to look for and what questions to ask when looking to purchase a used tractor.  This information was invaluable, especially knowing that after 8000 hours of operation, a tractor will start to act up/ depreciate quickly-" least cost life" and that after 12,000 hours is it's "worn out life"..  We learned how to check the oil, change filters, grease gears and approach the tractor safely.  These guys definitely focused on safety at all times.
We were then split into groups and were able to drive 3 different models and sizes of tractor.  Switching gears, running a course and backing up to attach a hitch.  I loved it!!  I was a little intimidated by the largest tractor at first, but I was the first to volunteer to drive it.  Even though I kept the gear in turtle speed ( not rabbit!), I found that I was very comfortable up there and felt confident driving and backing up.  Finally, we moved on to the third tractor where we focused on safely hitching implements to drawbars and a 3 pt mount and safely detaching them.
I was very impressed by this clinic and walked away feeling that I could drive a tractor safely and that I could change out the implements and do basic maintenance onthe machine by myself.  Awesome!

Learning to drive the big rig

Driving Instructions
Driving the course

Practicing backing up