One of the things I like best about farming is that I get to wear completely practical clothes, and it doesn’t matter what they look like. In fact, the rattier the better. They just need to be tough and comfortable. For me, jeans with patches on the knees are perfect, because they protect my knees from rocks, just a little, while I’m on the ground, and I spent a LOT of time on the ground this season.
On a vegetable farm, you don’t end up doing nearly as much work in the rain and mud as you would on a farm with animals. You can’t work the soil if the ground is too wet. However, there are plenty of crops that can be harvested in the rain, and when a delivery is due, you have to be there to pick the kale or tomatoes or tomatillos, no matter what. And plants can be pruned and staked in the rain. I quickly discovered that spending four or five hours working in the rain is a lot more pleasant if I wore rain paints. I ended up buying a $15 rain suit from Home Depot, out of desperation one day. The bad news was that it pretty much smelled like gasoline, it was so raw–Tracy and the kids could barely stand having it in the car with them. And the suspenders ripped on the first day, but it still did the trick and kept me dry on plenty of days. And it was cheap.
Next year, I plan to spend a little more and buy a stronger rain suit, maybe one that can breathe a bit. Hiking gear is probably the way to go. The trick is that any clothing for the farm needs to be really tough. I really didn’t understand going into this how rough the ground is on every object on the farm–tools, equipment, and clothing. In rocky soil like ours, it’s pretty much like working in sandpaper all day long. The earth just wears stuff out, and fast.
I’d worried about shoes/boots. A lot of farmers wear very farmer-like rubber boots, and I didn’t have any and didn’t want to buy them (the budget felt like it was getting out of control). I ended up using some old waterproof Keen hiking boots. They turned out to be perfect. If we had animals or a muddier field, I would have needed rubber boots, but in our case, we just have veggies and the field drained pretty well. The most important quality in farm boots for me this year was toughness and comfort. They’re shot now, but they lasted the whole season. And they needed to be comfortable enough for me to be on my feet, kneeling, weeding, hauling, standing, for eight or nine hours at a time. I think I’m going to buy a new pair of exactly the same model for next year.
Other key gear was my hat–a wide-brimmed Tilly hat, to keep the sun off my face and neck. Cancer runs in my family, so I have to be careful in the sun. I always wore sunscreen and rarely got sunburned–this was also important because I couldn’t afford to miss a day of field work just because I’d been stupid and blistered myself in the sun. That’s the thing with farming–there are no sick days. On a tiny operation like ours, there’s no one else to take over if I do something stupid. (I need to save the drama for my playwriting.)
For spraying organic pesticides and fungicides, I just went to Goodwill and bought an old oxford-cloth shirt that I could put on to protect my skin and easily wash separately from the rest of my clothing. (We did more laundry this summer than ever before. I’d come home covered in dirt from head to toe.)
Gloves were important, but they wore out quickly, especially when tying up tomatoes–nylon tomato twine cuts through gloves, and skin, almost as fast as a knife. I should have bought three pairs of gloves going into this season, but made do with one that basically fell apart by the end of the season. I like gloves that are fairly tight fitting, so that I can feel what I’m doing.