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The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball

I was charmed by this book, the story of a pair of first generation farmers building a working farm in upstate New York, powered by draft horses­­— and love. There’s enough practical information in the book to be instructive to other young farmers inspired to follow in this couple’s footsteps, but for me the book’s charm lies with the story telling talent of the author Kristin Kimball (left).

Kristin Kimball at Essex Farm

At the beginning of the book Kristin is a single freelance writer with a Harvard degree, living in New York City. Her life begins to change when she travels out of the city to interview a single male farmer for a story she’s writing about the local farm/local food movement. The chapters that follow are about the joining of their two lives, her struggle to shed her city self and the remarkably energetic manner in which they pursue their dream to build a certain kind of farm together.

In this passage from the prologue of her book Kristin writes about waking up in the middle of the night and contemplating how her life has changed since meeting and falling in love with Mark several years earlier:

Four winters I’ve slept in this bed, and still, sometimes… I feel like an actor in a play. The real me stays out until 4, wears heels and carries a bag, but this character I’m playing gets up at 4, wears Carhartts and carries a Leatherman, and the other day, doing laundry, a pair of .22 long shells fell out of her pocket, and she was supposed to act like she wasn’t surprised. Instead of the lights and sounds of the city, I’m surrounded by five hundred acres that are blanketed tonight in mist and clouds, and this farm is a whole world darker and quieter, more beautiful and more brutal than I could have imagined the country to be.

Fast forward to 2012. What Kristin and Mark have created at their 600-acre Essex Farm is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that supplies its members, numbering over 200, with all the food they need to sustain a healthy diet year round. This not only includes 40 different vegetables such as fruits, herbs, eggs, milk, butter and maple syrup, but beef, chicken, pork, grains, flours and dried beans.

Just last week I was told by Jeanne Hodesh of Grow NYC, an organization that operates farmer’s markets around New York City, that Kristin is considered an important voice for young farmers and the local, organic farm movement. She doesn’t sugar coat the primal intensity of farming—that “dirty, concupiscent art”, as she calls it, and the wonder of farming, as expressed in this passage from her book:

A farm asks, and if you don’t give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul.

A dear friend of my mother’s, Harry Hall, was so smitten with the author after reading her book that he and his daughter visited Essex Farm earlier this summer when it was opened to guests for a farm tour and outdoor sit down luncheon. (Harry gave me this book for my birthday last month, and he is the reason I know about it). When he mentioned Womanswork to Kristin, she responded enthusiastically that she loves our gloves because nowhere else can she find durable work gloves that fit a woman’s hands. Given its source, that compliment made me feel great.

Is Kristin working on a sequel? I really hope so. In the meantime I plan to give this book to my stepdaughter Eve, who is living in semi-rural Vermont, tending her oversize vegetable gardens with her boyfriend Nate, and dreaming of having a little farm.

Cover of Kristin Kimball's Memoir, The Dirty Life

Dorian Winslow is the president of Womanswork, and is passionate about making the best products on the market for women who garden and work outdoors.

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