In childhood diaries, I scribbled daydreams of working at a New York fashion magazine. I chose a college located smack in Philadelphia, then moved to Brooklyn immediately after graduation. I have always considered myself a city girl, through and through, so when I suddenly got bitten by the nature bug this summer — the first of many, many bug bites to come in the ensuing months, when I left my urban paradise in pursuit of (literal) greener pastures — I was as surprised as anyone.
After three years in the Big Apple, I'm spending this one traveling to live and work on a small, organic farm in a different state each month. My friends and family refer to the escapade as my "farming adventure," never quite certain whether to be impressed, amused or merely confused. I consider it a sort of muddy pilgrimage. I'm exploring the literal underground of the American diet, learning the behind-the-scenes stories and beneath-the-dirt facts of the foods that land on our plates.
Having planted more than 20 varieties of garlic with names like Chesnok Red and Music (and peeling bucket after bucketful of cloves to preserve), I'll never again take that feisty flavor for granted. I've come to savor the sweetness of a ripe tomato as much as any dessert. I can differentiate anvil pruners from bypass pruners and determine which is best for a given task, whether weeding around orchard trees or trimming blackberry bushes. And though I somehow have yet to get struck by poison ivy, I've been stung by nettle flowers and stuck with brambles enough times to spot those nefarious little buggers from several feet away.
Crop production is a gloriously complex craft — a muddled mix of science and magic, requiring labor that's sweaty, soggy and intensive, but brings bountiful fruits. The only way to learn the intricacies is one step at a time. More often than not, that step is a muddy, mucky one, both literally and figuratively. The proof is caked onto my shoes.
When I packed for this trip back in August, I figured I’d be set with an expended pair of sneakers that had been slumped at the back of my closet, plus some rubbery slip-ons. I smushed them into my one suitcase with an assortment of old attire that seemed suitable for digging around in the dirt: worn-out jeans and denim shorts, plain t-shirts and tanks, and a plaid flannel that matched whatever Old (Ms.) MacDonald stereotype I had in my head.
At my first few stops in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, I found myself surrounded by mountains and lakes, by rocky trails and craggy creeks, and my clothing quickly ceded to smudges of grass and soil that now show no signs of budging, no matter how many times I toss them in the wash. The stains are no big deal, but my soft-soled shoes aren't able to tackle the rural terrain as sufficiently as I'd foolishly hoped, which makes both my farm work and my off-hours adventures a bit more treacherous than ideal. After weeks of slipping and sliding on sore and soggy feet, I realized that a girl on the move in the Great Outdoors needs a great pair of boots to get around.
There aren't exactly many shopping options located in the countryside. The nearest retail outlets are miles and miles away from me. Fortunately, I do still have access to Zappos, my familiar online go-to that turns out to be a great resource for more than just city-appropriate footwear. It's more convenient than a trip to the store, anyway, with its fast, free shipping and solid customer service, plus its risk-free, 365-day return policy.
I settled on the classic BL550 boots by Blundstone. Though new to me, the Tasmania-based brand dates back to 1870, and its products are all built for the rugged landscapes of the Australian Outback. To relieve orthopedic pain, the soles are equipped with shock protection technology, which I can't resist interpreting both literally and metaphorically — while keeping my feet comfortable during especially active days, they've also eased me through the more mental and emotional shocks and surprises of this lifestyle shift.
I now wear my Blunnies whether I'm harvesting ripe tomatoes or hoeing garden beds; planting kale seeds or piling fertilizer into the back of a truck; or, on evenings and weekends, hiking the Appalachian Trail or horseback riding through the Cherokee National Forest. I slip them on with a quick tug of the pull tab when I'm heading straight from bed to the field at the crack of dawn, and my blistered hands are grateful not to have to bumble with cumbersome buckles or laces at the end of a long night.
Like my stained tees and jeans, I'm slogging the boots through mud, muck and leaves, but that's precisely what they're made for: experience. These things are built to roam, to wander, to trek and to trample. They're tough enough for trips and tumbles, but supple enough for a simple evening walk, too. Blundstone is internationally recognized for the long-lasting durability of its products, and so far, I'd say that reputation holds true.
As my "farming adventure" continues across the country, I'm sure I'll gain a few new scratches and scuffs, and with each one, a new skill or story. I miss the city sometimes, but I have a lot left to learn about the wonky workings of Mother Nature before I hit the road back home. For now, at least I look and feel the part of a seasoned outdoorswoman — and besides, like I said, I'm taking it one step at a time.
p.s. Have you met this pair of inspiring female farmers?