Barefoot Gardening

In the August-September issue of Organic Gardening, Maria Rodale writes of her preferred footwear for gardening – none.

“The soles of my calloused feet directly connect my soul to the warm, wet, textured earth…it’s like a whole new sixth sense of summer experienced through my toes,” she writes.

She goes on to attribute the pleasure of barefoot gardening to her childhood, which was spent on the Rodale farm, which she calls 20th century America’s first organic farm.

All I can say is, they must have had very different conditions on that organic farm in Pennsylvania than we had on all the farms I knew in Piedmont North Carolina.

For one, our soil was hardly warm, wet, and textured for much of the blazing summer. Instead, it was hot, dry, and hard – and full of rocks and clods that might as well have been rocks when you stepped on them. If it was wet, the soil was muddy, all the way up to your ankles, if not to your knees.

“Get out of that garden!” one of my parents would yell in the case of wet ground. “You’re making more clods!”

And the Rodales couldn’t have had bull nettles on that farm, or she’d be prouder of her clod-hoppers. Nothing hurt worse, or longer, than the wounds inflicted by those prickly briers that popped up throughout our garden. It didn’t seem to matter how thick the soles of your feet had become. Bull nettles grabbed on and stung from hundreds of little needles, each injecting a serum that burned and itched for days.

We certainly celebrated summer by shedding our shoes. Even the occasional sting from a honey bee that frequented the clover in our lawn didn’t deter us. We would walk barefoot without a care even on paved roads or cement sidewalks or gravel driveways, at least after a few weeks of toughening up in the spring. But when we went to the garden, we ran inside for our shoes first.

Mom and Dad both grew up in the generation for whom shoes were a luxury reserved for going into town or for school. They weren’t allowed to wear shoes much around the farm (partly because the rough soil would wear them out!). So as parents they were sympathetic to our hesitance to go barefooted into the garden. And I don’t recall either of them ever venturing out with naked feet, even just to grab a tomato.

So, while I salute Ms. Rodale and appreciate her ability to connect with Mother Earth through the soles of her feet, this is one pleasure of summer I won’t be participating in.

And my favorite gardening shoes will remain my trusty Timberlands.

With heavy socks.

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