Some helpful tips to find the best holiday gifts for farmers.
Every year around now my daughters ritualistically ask what I want for Christmas and get the same old answer, which they flatly ignore. Fact is, I have no idea what I want except that I really don’t want them spending their hard-earned paychecks on me. Dad’s directive notwithstanding, years ago a Leatherman advertisement so impressed the girls that they pooled meager resources and introduced me to the multi-tool, apologetic that they had only a single little package to give. To say that I was touched doesn’t begin to do justice to the range of emotions I felt that day, but it does prove the cliché — the thought is what counts. Various brands of the multi-tools can range in cost from $50 to $150.
The most meaningful holiday gift ideas might come directly from the farmer in your life, or you might need to turn up the gain on your observational antennae and put some thought into your gift giving.
When choosing holiday gifts for farmers pay attention to which sections of the farm store your special someone gravitates to even when you are simply on a mission for dog food: There might be a fine gift idea right there.
For example, early in our life together, my sweet bride Kate observed that I lingered at the tool chest display even when the errand was for an urgent couple of shear pins and a pitman arm for the mower. She knew I would never request a toolbox for Christmas because they are expensive and because guys classify them as personal items — no guy talks to his socks, but we all talk to our toolboxes. Not intimidated by gender-biased baloney, Kate made it her business one year to pick out the best three-piece rollaway tool chest the budget could bear. (Tool chest prices range from $300 to several thousand depending on the brand and features.)
Fifteen years later when she saw me repairing a handle on that best-ever gift, she flushed a little and asked whether I oughtn’t just get rid of it, now that we could afford a good one. I picked up a cloth and furiously polished the worn red steel, well aware that I already had the BEST one.
Watch for Christmas Gift Hints
When trips to the farm store fail, other avenues avail. Best of all, you need only observe. Does your favorite farmer come in from chores chilled to the bone while decrying the cost of a new pair of insulated coveralls? Which mail-order catalogues replace their favorite books at bedtime? Is there a new crop or species of livestock they are considering? Do they need a computer? How about an MP3 player? Do their feet hurt after a long day on the job? Do they fight bitterly with mosquitoes and black flies in the spring? In reflective moments what do they wish for? I know these suggestions seem trite, but people with busy lives tend to lose touch over the mundane. This is your chance to reverse the trend and give real meaning to your giving.
Kate and I both appreciate receiving nice, functional clothing as gifts. Perhaps this is the year for that shearling coat, arctic-grade Carhartt coverall ($80 to $125 for a quilt-lined cotton duck, or $140 to $215 for the Extreme Arctic denier cordura nylon pair) or American-made virgin wool shirt (from Filson for $135 to $145). Check at Sierra Trading Post (www.SierraTradingPost.com) for substantially discounted models if you don’t need the latest and greatest. For an excellent selection of Carhartt and other hardy brands, try Gempler’s (www.Gemplers.com); they also have an excellent selection of tools for the farm. For quirky, hard-core, and comfortable work clothes, the Duluth Trading Co. can’t be beat (www.DuluthTrading.com). Check out their line of incredibly comfortable F.O.M. shirts (Freedom Of Movement) and Longtail T-shirts — a line of shirts long enough to eliminate “plumber’s crack” (which might be more of a gift to those your farmer works with, but would be appreciated nonetheless). The F.O.M. shirts run from $35 to $45, and the Longtail Ts are $10-$20. They also originated the Bucket Boss line of tool organizers and continue to offer high-tech soft-sided solutions to reducing clutter.
If bugs bug your farmer, look for clothing made with the award-winning Buzz Off fabrics, which are specially treated with permethrin in a patent-pending process that retains insecticidal efficacy for many laundering cycles. Imagine not having to carry that bottle of DEET or other insect repellent on forays into field and forest. The fabrics are effective against ticks, flies, mosquitoes, ants, chiggers, and more. Check Cabela’s (www.Cabelas.com) or L.L. Bean (www.LLBean.com) for a nice selection of Buzz Off articles, which cost from $22 to $84.
If your farmer dreams about a good pair of work boots, then head on over to White’s Boots (www.WhitesBoots.com) for some ideas. You can look their shoes over on the website, but since they’re handmade to fit right, you will need to call in your order along with several measurements from both of the feet in question. The Farmer-Rancher model costs about $375. Duluth Trading Co.’s Ultimate Contractor’s Boot (around $115) is another American-made choice that harks back to the days when moccasin-toed white-wedge soled work boots were the norm. Don’t forget to include a set of YAKTRAX removable ice and snow grips with any boot purchase (www.Yaktrax.com), for an additional $19.95 to $27.95, to ensure that your farmer enjoys safe winter walking.
Thought-Provoking Christmas Gifts
Books make excellent and lasting gifts, too. One of my all-time favorite brain-exercising reads is Catherine T. M. Herriot’s translation of André Voisin’s 1959 title Grass Productivity. Voisin offers a first-rate analysis of pasture-cow interactions, and though highly technical, the book provides all the ammo needed to ward off skeptics when you subdivide your pastures into ever-smaller paddocks. Amazon.com prices the book at $30.
Another title that I celebrate annually with a fresh reading is Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden by Gilbert L. Wilson. The book (first published in 1917; still available in a 1987 reprint edition for under $12) chronicles a year in the agricultural life of an Hidatsa woman, offers sound seed selecting and storing tips, and provides detailed information on cultural practices whose value is every bit as useful to modern gardeners as it was important to a way of life now lost.
Just point your browser to Amazon.com (www.Amazon.com) or visit your favorite online or local bookstore for some fresh ideas. If you need help with titles or topics, booksellers today have excellent search capabilities. So if your farmer is interested in allelopathy (how plants or fruits affect other vegetation through gases), you won’t be disappointed. Visit the Grit Bookshelf on our website at www.Grit.com for ordering information and more ideas.
Gadgets and Gizmos for Gifts
In the mostly just-for-fun category, consider giving an MP3 player to your special farmer. These handy little devices are now compact enough to fit easily in shirt pockets and can unobtrusively supply hours of tunes, recorded books and other audio delights. We gave Apple’s iPods to all four daughters last year not expecting to be hooked in the process . . . but hooked we are. I discovered that long hours in the field or on the road pass a little more easily with the right selection of music — or a good audio book. An iPod Nano (starting at $149) along with a gift certificate to Apple’s iTunes online music store is guaranteed to bring smiles. The cost of downloading music begins at 99 cents per song. Check them out at www.Apple.com or at an Apple store near you.
While on the subject of electronic devices, you might also consider a digital camera. From pocket-sized point and shoot models to SLR-style digital bodies and associated lenses, there is something for every skill and interest level out there. I found that the reassembly stages of machinery repair go much smoother when I have digital documentation of how parts fit together in the first place. Check out your favorite brand’s latest digital delights online at Canoga Camera (www.CanogaCamera.com) or head on down to your local camera shop. These beauties can cost from $100 to more than $5,000, depending on the model, style, make and special features.
Gift-giving expectations and the budgetary bottom line can easily overwhelm the happiness and joy associated with the holiday season if we let it, so let’s not let it. As you search for meaning in that gift for your special someone, remember that the best gifts are simply those wrapped up with love. I no longer carry the Leatherman tool that the kids gave me, having long since replaced it with a newer model, but whenever I open the top drawer of my tool chest, I look at it and smile. The thought really does count — especially to the farmer in your life.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.