Wednesday, June 17, 2009

About The Hat

For years now, I have been getting questions about The Hat I wear at the farmers markets.  It's gotten so that when I forget to wear it, people comment, or don't even recognize me.  (Which is a great way to go incognito, just leave The Hat at home.)

I bought this hat years ago, I think it was in 1994, maybe '95.  I was working at Smith & Hawken in Mill Valley, California which, for those of you aren't familiar with it, is a very snooty garden store company.  (That used to have something to be snooty about.) In my defense, when I worked there it was just after the company had been sold for the first time to some corporate holding company based in Boston, and at that time it still retained a lot of what made S&H famous.  There were only two stores, both in the Bay Area, and they sold actual Real Garden Tools, and both had nurseries that sold  amazing and beautiful plants.  I remember having to study the S&H Tool Manual so that I could speak with intelligence about tree planting shovels and digging forks vs. spading forks and so on. We were trained in how to properly use and care for everything we sold, even including how to sharpen and repair customer's Felco hand shears. (I remember one customer who brought in some Felcos that had been lost in his compost pile for about a year- that was fun.)   

You could even get your Bulldog tools re-handled by Charlie, the guy who ran the MV warehouse. They employed Real, Knowledgeable Plant People in their nursery (I learned so much from Carol, Ann, Eve, Jane and Paul that first year) and although they did indeed sell super expensive teak furniture (I remember realizing that the cost of one teak steamer chair would cover my rent for a month- jeez), the company emphasis on quality and customer service and actually useful garden products was great.  

It all went to hell pretty soon after that first year I worked there. They began to rapidly open more and more stores across the country, and there was an ever increasing emphasis on selling 'Garden Lifestyle' crap.  Decorative cachepots (stupid containers that don't even have drainage holes in them) began replacing actually useful tools and supplies, and we were told to ask such things as, "Do you need socks with your garden clogs?" and "Would you like your (pumped up on steroids and forced out of season) 'Hydrangea-In-A-Decorative-Cachepot' in a Gift Bag?"

Really, it was enough to make any true gardener break out in hives.  I refuse to link to S&H, because they are such a useless company now as far as a source for Actual Real Garden Supplies goes, and everyone I know that had any real knowledge or skill is long gone. (Are they still owned by Scott's, the makers of Miracle-Gro? God, how the mighty have fallen.)  I was lucky to work there when I did.  I met many wonderful people there, and made some of the best lifelong friends I have among my co-workers, including my partner Packy, who worked at the corporate office in Mill Valley.  (In the company services department- he has never been a suit kind of guy.) It took me a long time to realize he was flirting with me when he would stop by the store, but I'm glad I finally did.  I'm pretty sure he is too.

Before I left S&H, I used my hefty employee discount to purchase The Hat, which I had coveted for months, and saved up for.  It is made by Helen Kaminski, a fabulous Australian hat designer.  I think the style was called 'Provence', but when I checked out her website, the hat called 'Provence' only sort of looks like mine. Of course, mine is at least 14 years old, and has seen some major wear- it gets wet, baked in the sun, sat on, squashed, and occasionally covered in compost.  I've long since lost the fancy leather forehead protector band inside the hat, and a few years ago the raffia string that goes around the crown to tighten the hat to your head (so it won't blow off in the wind) fell off, and I've replaced it with a bit of hemp twine.  They may well have updated the style a bit too.

In my opinion, this is the Greatest Hat Ever.  I think at the time it cost about $150, although I see they are up to $175 now.  Yeah, I know. Not Cheap. But when you figure that I got it for about $90 with my discount, and I've had it for 14 years, that adds up to about $6.43 a year for the Best Hat in the World.  Even if I bought one at full price today,  if it lasted me at least 14 years that would just be $12.50 a year.  Maybe I need to get a new one, just to have as a backup. (Although we need to save our pennies for buying a new farm, see next post for exciting update!)

Honestly, I cannot recommend this brand of hats strongly enough.  They are worth every penny, and if Ms. Kaminski ever needs a testimonial from a well satisfied customer, I will gladly supply it.

I just won't buy my new hat at Smith & Hawken.

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