Wednesday, April 13, 2011

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

Summary:  Single, thirty something, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure.  But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home.  When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed...On an impulse, smitten if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him.  The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of their first year on Essex Farm , from the cold North Country winter through the following harvest season--complete with their wedding in the loft of the barn.

Kimball and her husband had a plan: to grow everything needed to feed a community.  It was an ambitious idea, a bit romantic, and it worked.  Every Friday evening, all year round, a hundred people travel to Essex farm to pick up their weekly share of the "whole diet"-- beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and forty different vegetables -- produced by the farm.  The work is done by draft horses instead of tractors, and the fertility comes from compost.  Kimball's vivid descriptions of landscape, food, cooking-- and marriage -- are irresistible. 

"As much as you transform the land by farming," she writes, "farming transforms you."  In her old life, Kimball would stay out till four a.m., wear heels, and carry a handbag.  Now she wakes up at four, wears Carhartts, and carries a pocketknife.  At Essex Farm, she discovers the wrenching pleasures of physical work, learns that good food is at the center of a good life, falls deeply in love, and finally finds the engagement and commitment she craved in the form of a man, a small town, and a beautiful piece of land.  (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  Kristin Kimball never imagined herself on a farm, slaughtering pigs, planting beets, and driving a team of horses. When a chance interview leads to few days of grueling farm work, Kristin falls in love, first, with a way of life, and then with Mark – a farmer, who is equal parts eccentric, romantic, and world-class chef. Despite all good sense and the concerns of her family, Kristin moves to a ramshackle farm located on 500 acres of land in upstate New York, to cultivate a life of agricultural bliss with her soon-to-be husband.

The Dirty Life follows Kristin’s transformation from a single, freelance writer and devoted city slicker, to that of a wife, mother, and down-home farm girl.  In a fit of idealism, Kristin and Mark embark on an agricultural venture that, given their lack of capital, equipment, and expertise, has very little chance of success.  Their goal is to grow and eat their own food – all of it – and to give their community the same opportunity by building a cooperative, CSA-like farm that will provide members with a year-round, complete diet of organic fruit, vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, grain, dry beans, maple syrup, and more).  If that isn’t ambitious enough, they plan to do it all without chemical fertilizers or heavy-duty machinery.  Mark is determined.  Kristin is sure they are crazy.

After endless days of what Kristin calls, “trying to hammer out this big, awkward thing, [and] bring it from theory into being,” a farm begins to emerge from the dust and the wilds. It hobbles at first, and then it runs, as each week more members arrive at the farm, boxes in hand, to pick up their increasingly unlimited supply of food. While it was thrilling to watch the Kimball’s dream come true, it was Kristin’s description of the journey that I found most interesting – the successes, failures, and frustrations of living a life both gloriously simple and tremendously difficult.

Passionate and evocative, The Dirty Life had me at the prologue, with an irresistible blend of food, romance, and farm life that continued throughout the book. I was absorbed in the particulars of cooperative farming, the authors’ eloquent imagery, and unexpected sense of humor. I savored every page of it. Whether you are in love with country living, looking for a little inspiration, or just longing for a good book, The Dirty Life won’t disappoint you.

*POST EDIT* While I read the hardcover version of this book, the paperback version released April 12th, 2011, complete with recipes and photographs. *Yay!*

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There were two moments of profanity and a few scenes of slaughter and gore that, though realistic in a farm setting, made my stomach a little squeamish. 

Sum it up:  A riveting agricultural love story that is compelling, realistic, and well worth your time.


Julie @ Read Handed said...

This looks so great! At first I was thinking it might be a cheesy The Simple Life (Paris Hilton TV show) or Pioneer Woman type thing, but it seems so much more meaningful and deep than that. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the review

Amy said...

Rats. My library doesn't have this. Figures.

Ally said...

Thank you for this review. I was wondering about this book and now have decided to read it.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Another one of the many that I soooo want to read! And my library DOES have a copy! Hurrah!

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Really loved this...

Trin Carl said...

I agree with you about the prologue of the book caring on a bit of love and romance mixed in with the farming. How the heck Kimball managed to fall in love with a guy with so many OCD's is beyond me, but whatever your boat, sort-a-speak.


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