What are the farming essentials?
August 10, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Seeking advice on farming / outdoor gear.

This thread reminded me of a question that I've been wanting to ask: what would be great to have for someone starting work as a WWOOFer / farmer's apprentice in either Texas or New Mexico (I'm not sure yet) over the winter and then in Oregon?

I already have some decent hiking / riding boots, convertible pants, a North Face rain jacket and plenty of long sleeved shirts. What else should I be thinking of, clothing or otherwise? Would waterproof pants be a good investment? Good hats for keeping cool? Good hats for keeping warm? Muck boots? Gloves? Anything that I'm totally not thinking of?
posted by youcancallmeal to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Not knowing what you'll be doing (Farm can mean a variety of different things), I'm guessing a bit. My father in law runs a berry farm in VT. So I'm just sticking to the essentials that I've found handy. Different farms need different equipment: work gloves (cotton and leather); a simple, single fold knife; pruning shears; sun hat; head lamp; moleskin; rubber boots; and disposable masks.

Dependent upon your boss, you may want your own tools (socket set, torque wrench, hammer, prybar, etc).

Lastly, depending on the tasks you are doing, you will want to vary the expensive clothing items with the cheap to replace clothing items. I've ruined a bit of clothing with rips, tears, stains and burns from various weekend projects I've helped with while I'm up there. So... add in a sewing kit, Lestoil, Stainstick, bleach, simple green and a sturdy washing machine.

Beer is also always good... Beer and/or non-alcoholic beer.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:58 PM on August 10, 2009

Boonie hat. Invaluable. They are lightweight, easily washable, you can fold it up and stuff it in your pocket, and they keep the sun and rain off your head, neck, and ears. Better yet if you can hit an army surplus store and pick them up cheap. I always have a couple around.
posted by stubborn at 7:17 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

You want to be waterproof. I've WWOOFed and now work fulltime on a small CSA, and I can say, first and foremost, waterproof your feet. Rain pants would be second for me, then a rain coat. Then, as mentioned above, some sort of work glove (don't drop too much money here....hosts will likely offer you some).

Outside of that, think comfort. You'll be fine in any outdoor, hiking attire most days. I rarely wear shorts on the farm, because we inevitably end up working on our knees while transplanting, weeding, etc. That's a personal preference though. Bring a separate change of clothes for warm, cool, and wet days - and you'll be fine.
posted by pilibeen at 7:25 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey! I just did an internship on an organic farm. It was in Canada, but I am from TX so maybe I can help.

You need a good hat that will keep the sun and rain out of your eyes. The style of the northern Albertans I worked with was to wear a toque over a baseball hat (warmth + brim).

GLOVES. Several different pairs, depending on the variety of work you are doing. I had sturdy leather gloves for working with barbed wire, gardening gloves that I also worked cattle with (they ended up caked in manure, fun!), rubber gloves for when we were cleaning out the bee hives with bleach.

I absolutely tore through three pairs of jeans in 2 months. Either get some from a secondhand shop that you can get rid of as you go, or learn to sew and patch.

The farm I was at provided these things: protective eyewear for working with barbed wire and dust masks that protected me from getting hantavirus on a daily basis. They also had a selection of rubber boots for when it was muddy.

A decent knife for cutting open feed bags and such. A small flashlight.

Sunscreen if you're in TX, even in the winter. Possibly bugspray, but some organic farmers won't want deet on their property. :)
posted by jschu at 7:29 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

In Texas, the current trend is for organic farms to be 'ecosystem' farms -- they use no gasoline powered equipment on the farm itself in normal operations. They grow hay, which feeds the livestock. The livestock provide power to till the fields / process the hay, manure to compost to fertilize the vegetable fields, the vegetable fields feed the people and the animals, and what's left over is sold. Some of the farms are doing quite well with this program, but it's a touch hard on the farm hands.

I'd suggest going beyond your hiking/riding boots and investing in some good ol' Red Wings. Get them fit at a store; they will fit them properly and can give you advice about what kind of socks to wear in different situations. You'll definitely also want to add some muck boots to that... but those can be had cheaply. They're only $15-20 at MOST at any half-decent Tractor Supply (or similar farm/ag co-op type store).

You'll want several different types of hats, and in Texas, you will also want some of those fancy Columbia Sportswear / REI shirts that are usually sold under "fishing outerwear" -- they have the built in "SPF" and will wick sweat. You do not want to get in a situation where you're covered in sweat and can't evaporate it, either when you're cold (Oregon) or hot (Texas, even in the winter.)
posted by SpecialK at 7:33 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say wear what the real farm workers wear. Around here that would mean mostly Carhartt clothing, mixed in with Wrangler brand jeans and generic Walmart-style shirts, etc. Other parts of the country (not to mention other countries) have different preferred brands and styles; the commonality is going to be tough, reasonably-priced clothes that can take an unholy amount of abuse before falling apart. If you can buy it at the local farm and ranch store for under $40, it's probably a good choice.

What you will not see: zip-off pants/shorts combos; lightweight rain gear; anything as expensive as Filson or high-tech enough to be advertised by extreme sports stars; jeans that have special washing instructions.

If you will be in the sun all day, your basic choice is to strip down or cover up. The second is better for your skin and better for avoiding heat exhaustion; migrant farmworkers tend to cover up and hippies tend to strip down. Your choice, but if you are new to the southwest/Mexico, remember that the sun doesn't joke around and you can really cook yourself dangerously. Either way, a cheap hat with a broad, stiff brim (again, the local farm and ranch store can hook you up) is important.
posted by Forktine at 7:39 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

A multitool and a small but powerful flashlight are pocket essentials. I love my Muck boots, except in summer; they make my feet and calves sweaty in hot weather. Zip ties are lightweight and by carrying a couple in your pockets/pack, you have a handy way to temporarily secure something. I live and die by my 5-gallon buckets--I use them to tote water, vegetables, scraps, tools, kindling, toys, etc. I've also learned to keep a small first aid kit in my car so I don't have to go back in the house for minor cuts. Sunblock! I can't stress that one enough. Farmer tans are sexy, but ultimately not very good for you. Double up on gloves, because there's always a pair that's wet or misplaced. A pair of cheap Crocs knockoffs will let you run outside for quick things without having to wrestle with boots. A thermos, for soup or ice water, and some sort of lunchpail that's relatively critterproof.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:39 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pacific Northwest farmer here, so I'm coming from the dark, rainy (but still growable) winter experience.

Head lamp for sure. A lifesaver in the winter.

Definitely a hat. Sunglasses. Sunscreen.

I like the thin cotton gloves with the latex (nitrile? I don't know) coating on the palm side and on the fingers. Then for winter, they make some really nice insulated ones. I don't know the brand but the latex is grey and they are warm and cozy.

A good pocket knife. If you can find a good, affordable multitool, get that, but make sure the knife is good. If you can get a serrated bit, that helps with cutting feed bags, plastic things, smallish branches. Make sure it has a good sharp section too for harvesting if you don't have your harvest tools on hand. Locking blade if you can get it. I love my Skeletool (and so does much of MetaFilter).

A sturdy digital camera plus extra storage. Lots of paper/notebooks for taking notes for your future endeavors.

I hate having my feet too hot, so I like lightweight clogs like Crocs etc for summer, and some boots for winter, especially in Oregon.

A sweat rag. Plain ol' bandanna works well.

A fingernail brush and clippers with the scrapey-outey thing! Some lotion for your hands, which may get very dry. I use a callus-eating lotion during planting and potato-harvest season (among others) to reduce the skin on my fingers that cracks and turns black with dirt.

As in the thread you linked, if you find Smartwool or Ibex or other merino goodies on sale or if you can swing them not-on-sale, BUY THEM. Especially under-layers if you will be wintering in Oregon.

As for tools, I don't know if you want to bring your own and then try to keep track of them, or what, but I love my hori-hori knife. Looooove it. So much that I would risk taking it to a shared-tools-and-living-quarters situation like WWOOFing with, like, colored duct tape and my name engraved, and a carabiner on my beltloop for it to live on when I wasn't holding it in my hand.

Sharpies. Carabiners -- cheap, non-load-bearing kind works fine, but they are great for attaching stuff to belts, backpacks, 5-gal buckets, hooks on walls, rafters, chicken wire, ...

On preview:

5-gal buckets and zip ties are truly endlessly useful on the farm, though that's the kind of thing I would hope the farm owners would provide for you. But bring some if you've got 'em.

A big water bottle/jug that's easy to carry (beltloop? hook to your backpack? whatever).

Definitely a first-aid kit or at least lots of Neosporin and Bandaids.

Sewing kits are awesome. You can patch old jeans with bits cut from yet older jeans.

Hope you have fun!! I wish I'd done an apprenticeship.
posted by librarina at 8:16 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Straw hat. Also a stocking cap. And a baseball cap for temperatures in the middle. Before I started farming, I loved leather gloves. Then I found out what happens when leather gloves get wet. Now I wear the cheap rubber atlas gloves on a daily basis. I have a coupla pairs of thick gloves and a coupla pairs of thin rubber gloves. The thin ones have saved me any amount of skin because they preserve enough sensation that one can wear then when a more robust glove would sacrifice too much dexterity.

Expensive waterproof gear is a waste of money. I own about a thousand dollars of gore-tex from my ice climbing career and, when it comes to farming, the $30 jacket from the feed store works better. The good shit works fabulously when you're exerting yourself heavily in below freezing weather (and I remember climbing a frozen waterfall in -20 degree weather with running water spraying on me. The fancy shit kept me warm and dry while ice was freezing on me.). When you're sweating hard in reasonable temperatures, there's no waterproof/breathable fabric the will outperform cheap rubberized whatevercloth.

When I'm working, I carry three knives (at a minimum). A box knife, a one-handed lockblade, and a multitool. I've also started carrying a pair of pruners on my belt because, well, when I have them handy I always need them.

As you link, smartwool long johns are full of awesome and win. I disagree with forktine about Filson. I know a shitload of farmers that wear Filson and many more that would love to if they could afford the upfront cost.

If you're working the farmers' market, you'll need a hippy farmgirl outfit (farmboy as appropriate). It's bullshit, but it's theater. Folks dress to present an image at the market. My wife and I ran into a local intern on a not-market-day and, well, she was wearing her customary sorority girl clothes. I barely recognized her. Farmers' markets are retail and retail is a costume.

I also wear steel-toes as a matter of course. The protection of steel-toes in the event of an accident is nice, but I really find them useful as a place to set shit. If I need to lift something and position it so I can get my hands underneath it it's really fucking handy to be able to set it on the toe of your boots. That steel-toes offer some measure of protection is pure gravy.

Also, librarina is my life and business partner. Her preference for crocs and others is influenced by the fact that she doesn't run the machinery. Protective shoes have their place, as does barefoot gardening. Match them to your task.

Headlamp is full of awesome and win any way you cut it. Also, something to test whether a fence is hot that's not your hand is pretty sweet.

And, of course, if the farmer your working for does not provide the appropriate safety gear then walk. You are, I'm reckoning, relatively privileged compared to the illegals that produce most of our food and, as such, if you can push back on an employer who is non-compliant with safety laws then, well, you're making the world a better place.
posted by stet at 8:36 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome. All of this is super helpful so far and stet / librarina: If you need some farm help from a current farming nomad, let me know. :)
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:26 PM on August 10, 2009

My partner and I did some farm work in Europe last year (not WWOOFing, but Help Exchange, which is similar).

Lots of good advice above. Here are a few extra suggestions if you're going to be working around animals, such as horses. Get some rubber boots ("wellingtons") to wear when mucking out stalls, taking wheelbarrows to the manure pile, trudging through the cow pasture. It's a pain and a half to try to dig manure out of the treads of your nice hiking boots.

Definitely pick up a couple of cheapie flannel or denim work shirts to use as cover ups. When you're grooming horses, you end up covered in hair and smelling of horse. No matter how many times you wash the shirt, you may not want to wear it again. So better to make it a shirt you don't care about. (Learned this one the hard way on a French horse farm, and then hightailed it to the local Wal-Mart equivalent and got a couple of 5 euro ($8) work shirts. Noticed all of the farmers' wives in the area stocking up on them too.)
posted by mkuhnell at 8:05 AM on August 11, 2009

Clarification: no matter how many times you wash the shirt, you may not want to wear it again *off the farm*. I'm not advocating one-wear disposable shirts. :-)
posted by mkuhnell at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2009

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