For 58 years, now, I’ve proudly worn the uniform of the American farmer and rancher; denim blue jeans made by one of three major manufacturers, plaid work shirts with button-down collars made by one of two companies, caps given away by any number of feed stores, implement dealers, other farms or any one of a thousand agriculture related enterprises, cowboy boots made by either one of the major boot makers, and, when I really have to dress up, my cowboy hat (straw in the summer and felt in the winter).
It is this uniform that has allowed me to walk into any restaurant, meeting or funeral and immediately identify who is a comrade – and who is not. Most non-farmers don’t know about this, but it has evolved into the equivalent of our “secret handshake” throughout the years. Oh, sure, there are always going to be a few odd ducks that buck the trend and try to hide their real occupation, but I can still usually spot them anyway by the sun-weathered skin, calloused hands and worried looks. I tell you all of this because I am beginning to notice a worrisome trend that bothers me immensely.
Last Saturday morning, as I drank my coffee at the local gathering spot, a farmer that I’ve known for several years came in and joined our group. Everyone was staring and laughing at his bare and neon-white legs sticking out of a pair of blue jean cut-offs.
“What is going on with you?” I asked, “Are you heading to the lake or the golf course?”
“Neither,” he answered so matter-of-factly. “I’m going to bale hay today.”
“Dressed like that?” I teased him in a half-joking, half-serious tone. He went on to explain that he had baled hay the day before in shorts for the first time in his life and it was soooo comfortable, he thought he was going to make a habit out of doing so.
I was shocked and was just getting ready to read him the U.S. Constitution and some verses from the Bible (I’m sure our dress code is in both) when another neighbor stepped forward to confess that he, too, had started wearing short-legged pants to both rake and bale.
“It is so much more comfortable and cooler, I wish I’d started doing it years ago,” he admitted. It was just too much, so I got up and moved to another table. 
When I got home from the coffee shop that morning, I told my wife about my distress of hearing that two different neighbors were actually doing farm work dressed in shorts. She said it made sense to her and that she thought I should give it a try as well. I laughed and told her I didn’t even own a pair of cut-off jeans, and that I was going out to start on the weeks-long chore of clipping 600 acres of fescue stems off the pasture with the rotary cutter. She went downstairs and returned a couple of minutes later with a worn-out pair of my old blue jeans with the legs cut off.
“Try it, please,” she begged, “just for me.”
I consented since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be seen that day by anyone. When I returned at dark, Judy was waiting at the door.
“How did it go operating a tractor in shorts?”
“Hated it!” I barked.
“Why, wasn’t it cooler and more comfortable?” she implored.
I had to admit, “It was definitely cooler and, to be truthful, I guess it was even a bit more comfortable. But any time I had to get out and do anything to the tractor or cutter, it was a real pain in the rear.”
Judy wondered, aloud, if the heat and sun were too much on my lily-white legs. “No,” I answered, “my cowboy boots would fill up with fescue seed and itch like crazy.”
I can only change one thing at a time.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to and click on ‘Contact Us.’


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here