At the Farm GateFarming: A job with as many boots and hats
Before the first puddles of spring arrived, I would rummage through the supply of hand-me-down rubber boots, searching for the size that our young kids had grown into for the season. The appropriate footwear lined the back hall, ready for water to pond in the driveway.
Today, my teenagers splash less, but the boot dryer has a permanent space near an outlet and the family’s boots now take up more space for a household with adult-sized feet. Shoes and boots for “farm” and “good” fill cabinets and cubbies by the back door. Rubber boots – both insulated and not – line part of the garage wall. Shelves display the nicer western boots that our kids wear to school, FFA events and the 4-H fair for showing livestock. Boots for the chicken coop stay in the garage.
Farmers wear as many boots as hats on the farm, symbolic of a wide range of skills worth recognizing in this season that honors National Ag Day on March 21, 2023. In Illinois, families (not corporations) own and operate an overwhelming 96% of farms. Those families pull on boots as agronomists, veterinarians, accountants and mechanics. They operate heavy machinery, manage employees, build fence and monitor weather to know what boots to wear.
In this job of many boots, we may scout bean fields on a dewy summer morning or clean a livestock stall for the next cow to give birth. Hard-soled boots climb from the tractor to check seed depth behind the planter. We attend farm conferences in our best boots or spend a winter afternoon with the family in snow boots, sledding the slope southeast of the farmstead.
For some farms, plastic boot covers protect animals from devastating diseases that could transmit from boot treads. That’s not the case for us but boot covers would help at times. Someone occasionally leaves a trail of mud in the farm office, despite the boot scraper outside the door.
Three boot dryers await their duties along the footwear wall where Dad and the guys store boots for every season and task, from chores to cheer – or sometimes, the unexpected. I wore rubber boots to my aunt’s funeral a few years ago to keep my heels out of the mud. It was my nod to the career farm woman, who would have done the same.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens.