The Dirty Life: A Memoir Of Food, Farming, And Love by Kristin Kimball
When I first came across this book, I thought it might be interesting. I was looking for books about small farms whose owners choose to do it the old fashioned way. I didn't need to read another farm porn book with pretty pictures that set up the armchair farmer to believe that farming is really as simple as poking a seed in the ground & then you eat. In a way, it is this simple if you pretend the labor involved in between doesn't exist.
As with anything that catches my interest, I look for reviews. At that time, the negative reviews painted a picture of exactly what I didn't want. A rich couple who know nothing try to start a farm, the language is obscene & the book is too whiny. After seeing several reviews along those lines I decided to give 'The Dirty Life' a pass. What a mistake.
Several years later I came across a book titled 'Good Husbandry'. It hadn't been reviewed yet. I noticed it was by the same author who's previous book, 'Good Husbandry' I'd given a firm pass. This time was different for me. 'Good Husbandry' appeared to be years down the road after the rose colored glasses came off - or so I imagined having never read the first book. Now this had my interest. How did this woman & her husband fare after all these years? I immediately put in a request for the book & also immediately contacted my wonderful local library to see if they carried 'The Dirty Life'. I picked it up that day. I wanted to read it first so I would have a better understanding of the story behind 'Good Husbandry'.
In my humble opinion, 'Good Husbandry' is the best non fiction book ever! I have never read another person's accounting on farming that I have connected with so deeply. This book is raw & dirty. Kristin was a New York City thirty something writer. She dated but not seriously & didn't feel connected, but loved her apartment & her life. Or did she?
The beginning of the book she introduces the reader to how she ended up where she is now & we can blame it all on a man. In this story, that man is Mark. Kristen wanted to explore the budding local food movement & found a farm she wanted to interview. Her brief time at this farm & with Mark left her craving more. She wasn't sure exactly what she wanted, just that something was missing. Kristen & Mark start to date. Eventually Mark convinces her that they should marry & have a local environmentally responsible farm that provides a full diet. A full diet meant not just your typical vegetables, but also grains, milk, butter, cheese, meats, eggs & sugar (in this case, maple syrup). To their knowledge, this had never been done before.
There relationship was very rocky but something must have clicked with them because through it all, they stuck it out. Eventually they found Essex Farm. This was a huge bit of land that hadn't been farmed in ages. It had many outbuildings in disrepair & a variety of fields & pastures as well as a very old farmhouse that needed some serious TLC.
They put everything they had in their dream of a full diet farm. Everyone thought they would fail. After all, who makes money farming? For them, it wasn't just about making money though. It was about creating something local that would be of benefit to the locals. They wanted to produce real wholesome food that didn't come neatly wrapped & placed on shelves in florescent lighted stores from... well who really knows? They wanted real.
The purchased draft horses to plow the fields, Jersey dairy cows for the best milk you could ever hope to drink, pigs, chickens, sugaring supplies (to make maple syrup), & Scottish Highland cattle for meat, & plenty of seeds.
The picture Kristen paints of their adventure into farming is both beautiful & disturbing. For myself, I find it incredibly easy to relate to both. While my farm is nothing like Essex Farm, it is also exactly the same. I'm not providing a full diet CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), raising pigs, tapping maples, beef cattle or working with my husband. Nor do I have hundreds of acres. But it doesn't matter. It's the heart of it that matters. It's the land. It gets into you & it doesn't let go. Going out into "civilization" is jarring. Everything is so clean, people are dressed so nicely. It's like an entirely different world. Farming is dirty, sweaty, labor intensive & sometimes heartbreaking. Farming is also rewarding, addictive, & beautiful. Plus, you eat the healthiest freshest foods. Farmers get to eat like kings.
I was (am) so smitten with this book, that after reading the borrowed library edition, I found a signed copy on Amazon & purchased it. I also got the audio book version. I begged my husband to listen to it on audio & he did. He liked the book, but it didn't resonate with him like it does with me. Perhaps this is because he's a part time farmer. Perhaps because it's from a woman's point of view. Maybe a little of both?
The world needs more authors like Kristen to show what farming really is like in all it's beauty & struggles.
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