Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's all Relative

"There is no such thing as bad weather; it's inappropriate gear."

Words of wisdom from a Tlingit lady, who overheard a group of kayakers whining about 19 days of cool, rainy weather at Resurrection Bay, Seward, AK.

Last summer when the temperatures were in the upper 90’s as I was standing under my pop up shade on the blacktop at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market on the corner of First & R Streets in Washington, D.C., my customers repeatedly told me what a “tough job” I had. After they stocked up on their meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, cheeses, pastas and sauces, they’d go back to their air conditioned homes and be thankful it wasn’t them out there sweating their butts off.

But me? I was thankful I had such a great “office” right next to the DolceZZa Artisanal Gelato stand. A small cup of Honey & Avocado or Tangerine & Southern Comfort hits the spot during those scorcher Sundays. Little did my customers understand that I was thinking ahead to weeks such as the last few here on the farm.

For most people, a snow day or sub-zero temperatures means stocking up on the essentials, battening down the hatches and cranking up the heat. I do the same except for my job (and your dinner) depends on me making sure everyone has food, water and warm, clean bedding. It doesn't matter that it's four degrees with twenty knot winds dipping the temperatures well below zero. This time the ice cream headache isn't from wolfing down frozen gelato too quickly, but simply from walking out to the barn.

So similarly to the summer months when I tackle the elements with sandals, shorts, t-shirts, wide-brimmed hat and a couple Klean Kanteens full of water, when the brutal cold and snow arrives it’s simply a matter of being prepared and properly outfitted.

For myself, I heavily depend on gear from Patagonia. Before moving to Pennsylvania, I lived in Ventura County, home to Patagonia’s corporate headquarters. Every year I faithfully hit their parking lot sale where they would unload assorted gear for a fraction of its retail. Even after years of use, abuse and washings, much of the stuff still looks just as good as the day I bought it. Best of all, it’s designed to face the elements. The two pair of Capilene socks I bought in 1993 just gave out this year—which worked out to about $1.75 a winter for warm feet.

My next line of defense is wool. Not just any old wool, but good wool. Cashmere, alpaca and angora are my personal favorites. I’ve got a drawer full of wool socks all made from critters within a twenty mile radius of my farm and with whom I’m on a first name basis with the shepherds. Similarly, a good wool hat, either knitted or felted is worth its weight in gold. No, I'm not being a fiber snob. It's no different than comparing locally produced food to factory farmed crap.

To be fully prepared to work in sub-zero temperatures requires the following: Patagonia Capilene socks & long underwear (tops & bottoms), wool socks, Muck Boots, LL Bean two-layer union suit, Carhart jeans, cotton turtleneck, Polarfleece vest, cashmere or Synchilla pullover, cashmere or silk scarf, Patagonia winter shell lined with fleece, a face mask I found my my Grandma Meyers' knitting basket, my favorite heavy wool hat knitted by my friend, Lynne and three pair of gloves--inner fleece gloves, outer leather gloves and a spare pair of fleece in case my others get wet. Layers! Layers! Layers!

Ultimately, farming during the winter also boils down to having the right equipment. My number one, can’t live without items are my stock tank heaters. These lovely little gadgets ensure I’m not cursed with chipping ice with a digging iron just so my livestock has access to fresh water.

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