The Dirty Life
On Farming, Food, and Love
By Kristin Kimball
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9781416551607, 288pp.)
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
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"This book is the story of the two love affairs that interrupted the trajectory of my life: one with farming—that dirty, concupiscent art—and the other with a complicated and exasperating farmer."
Single, thirtysomething, 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. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But 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 until four a.m., wear heels, and carry a handbag. Now she wakes up at four, wears Carhartts, and carries a pocket knife. 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
Kristin Kimball is a farmer and a writer living in northern New York. Prior to farming, Kimball worked as a freelance writer, writing teacher, and as an assistant to a literary agent in New York City. A graduate of Harvard University, she and her husband Mark have run Essex Farm since 2003, where they live with their two daughters.
- Kristin was a freelance writer in New York City, which gave her the opportunity to travel around the world. When she first met Mark on his farm, she felt like a foreigner. In what ways do you think this feeling comforted her? Were you surprised when the situation flipped and Kristin felt foreign to the life she used to lead in the city?
“The Dirty Life is a delightful, tumultuous, and tender story of the author's love affair with the man who becomes her husband and the farm they work together to restore. With wisdom and humor, Kristin Kimball describes how she abandoned her career in New York City, leaving behind everything she thought was important for a hard, distinctly unglamorous existence that turns out to be the most fulfilling thing she’s ever done.”
--JEANNETTE WALLS, author of Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle
“The Dirty Life is a wonderfully told tale of one of the most interesting farms in the country. If you want to understand the heart and soul of the new/old movement towards local food, this is the book you need. It's the voice of what comes next in this land, of the generation unleashed by Wendell Berry to do something really grand.” --Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"In her beguiling memoir, Kimball describes the complex truth about the simple life in prose that is observant and lyrical, yet tempered by a farmer’s lack of sentimentality." --Elle Magazine
"Kimball is a graceful, luminous writer with an eye for detail... How lucky we are to be able to step into that world with no sweat. I wished for a hundred pages more." --Minneapolis Star Tribune
"As Kimball chronicles that first year in supple prose, the farm takes on vivid form, with the frustrations balancing the satisfactions and the dark complementing the light. Throughout the book, the author ably describes the various trials and tribulations involved... A hearty, chromatic account of a meaningful accomplishment in farming." --Kirkus Reviews
"Kimball writes in vivid but unsentimental language, equal parts dirt and poetry." --Burlington Free Press