Small Changes Can Make Big Impact with Ladders

LaddersBlogPic-UCAERC-CommPartnersIf you ever had an ergonomic review of your workspace, you know that small changes, such as moving your chair up an inch or tilting your monitor a few degrees, can make a big difference in reducing muscle aches and pains.

The same is true in agriculture where repetitive movement (e.g., going up and down ladders) can become incredibly tiring, potentially leaving a worker open to various types of injury. Staying healthy and strong is especially important for farmworkers who look forward to harvesting multiple crops through the season.

Professor Fadi Fathallah, engineer Victor Duraj, and others at the UC Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center (UC AERC) are continuing their earlier work funded by NIOSH Community Partners for Healthy Farming Intervention that showed some workers who harvest peaches and nectarines prefer a ladder with shorter spacing between steps.

Why might this be? It may go back to the principle of switchbacks. If you’ve ever hiked, you know that it is a lot easier to go up the hill via switchbacks than blazing a trail straight up. You have to take more steps with switchbacks but the vertical height of each step is much less, and, ultimately can be less tiring. You might also find that even though you took longer to get there, by the end of the day you may have walked further or the next day be less tired, or both. The same may be true when climbing a ladder if it has shorter steps.

In current work supported by the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, the UC AERC is using human muscle force modeling software to see why some workers with relatively small differences in size might have a strong preference for a particular spacing. To help match forces with movements the researchers are using motion capture equipment that includes small sensors strapped to many points on a body. These electronics are similar to those used in developing animated movie and video game characters that move in “real” ways. Besides actual and modified orchard ladders, the UC AERC will use their newly developed portable research ladder that allows for precise positioning of each ladder rung as well as overall angle of the ladder, which will help the researchers test software-predicted optimum spacing for each person in the study.

If you are curious to know more or are a grower interested in participating in field trials, please contact Victor Duraj at 530-752-1898,, or via


Bilingual Video Made to Help Hmong American Farmers with USDA Funding

Independent Hmong farmers can learn about USDA financial assistance available to them through a bilingual video produced by the National Hmong American Farmers (NHAF). The  10 minute video, called “Working with the USDA,” describes loans and grants available to farmers.

The video, which is available in Hmong with English subtitles, follows Mary Vu, a Hmong farmer near Fresno, California. Mary owns 11 acres and grows strawberries, flowers, and vegetables. Mary has lost crops due to bad weather, so she goes to her local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Fresno. Mary has been a farmer for many years, in her native country as well as in France, but she is not very aware of how the USDA could help her during these hard times. The video is an educational tool to help Hmong farmers learn about the financial support they can get and help other groups better understand some of the common struggles small farmers face.

Mary is directed to Tou Thao, an FSA loan officer, who explains that there are 2 types of loan programs available to help farmers like her: direct loans or guaranteed loans. Tou describes how much money Mary could borrow, for what purpose, and for how long with the different types of loans. Mary also learns that there are grants available to help here improve her farm, for example, by installing drip irrigation or protective crop covers. Information on all the FSA loans described in the video is available in the web booklet, “Your Guide to FSA Farm Loans.”

The NHAF is a non-profit 501c3 organization whose mission is to preserve Hmong-American farm culture by promoting economic self-sufficiency for Hmong-American and other immigrant and ethnically underrepresented farmers. They provide services to independent farmers  throughout the country, with special focus on California’s Central Valley farmers, who may have limited access to government programs. Contact NHAF at Email: or (559) 225-1081.


Ag Center Confronts Rape in Field

9622528306_e313bcf7c5_zThe PBS FRONTLINE 2013 documentary, “Rape in the Fields,” highlights undocumented women from California’s Salinas and Fresno areas as well as Washington’s Yakima Valley experience with sexual harassment and rape suffered at the hands of their supervisors. The women tell of their ordeals, sometimes at gunpoint, and fear of losing their jobs or being deported if they complain or leave. Often, the women do not speak English, are poor, in debt, and / or responsible for supporting their family. While in some cases, the grower was sued, the actual perpetrator was never criminally charged. Many women explained that sexual harassment is a common occurrence not just for themselves, but also for their friends and daughters.

A recent study by investigators at the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health (PNASH) Center and University of Washington (UW) confirms the risk of sexual harassment in agriculture – female farm workers are 10 times more vulnerable to sexual assault than women in other occupations. PNASHC is working this summer with Spanish radio KDNA-FM in the Yakima Valley to air radio dramas based on true women experiences recorded in the PNASHC-UW study. The radio show allows callers to phone in for questions or support.

sh poster copyPNASHC-UW has created flyers in Spanish and English to educate farmworkers about what is sexual harassment, your rights, how to report it, and who to turn to for help. In addition, the Washington Growers League and the Washington State Department of Agriculture are giving training on identifying and preventing sexual harassment.

“Rape in the Fields” has won the 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for domestic television as well as the 2014 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for excellence in broadcast and digital news. It was a collaboration between FRONTLINE, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Spanish-language network Univision, which aired a Spanish-language version of the film, Violación de un Sueño.

Most importantly, “Rape in the Fields” has spurred efforts, like PNASH-WC, to combat sexual abuse by focusing on growers and getting advocates out into the fields. More information can be learned about the PNASH-WC study by visiting the UW’s Newsbeat.