30 March 2011

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

The Book:

Kristin Kimball was single, living and working the fast track in New York City. Then she meets Mark during an interview about farming and everything changes. Kristin finds herself leaving the life she knew behind and follows Mark upstate to start a CSA farm. With no experience, Kristin begins a journey over the next year creating a place to raise crops, animals, and a marriage.


The Yarn:

Kristin Kimball takes us on a year's journey in the creation of her farm, which begins with meeting Mark. Big-city girl meets farm boy and they move to the country? Trust me, this is no season of Green Acres. Kimball dives right into the hard work, frustration and joys of farming, even with no personal experience in it.

The first thought I had several pages into the book: this is a love story. You have to have a love, a passion to be able to turn away from the life you have led for much of your adult years. Kimball became enamored of a man, his ideals and way of life, and that led her to a 500-acre farm far away from everything she had experienced. She found a love in the dirt, in harrowing fields with two horses, in planting enough to feed not only her family but others, in cooking and connecting with the land.

You can feel the love in Kimball's writing, whether describing the process of millking and its results: both in the mental meditation and in the physical filtering and bottling. A vegetarian for thirteen years before helping Mark slaughter a pig on that day her world changed, Kimball praises the food provided on her farm, from milk and cheese to pig scrapple (boiled pig meat and meal, kind of a Spam-like food), calf testicles and nettle soup.

The seasons build to the fall of their wedding on the farm. It isn't perfect, with a feverish bride, missing pies, and cows brought in to trim the lawn. Yet it was part of the goal, and a wonderful result of the love that started the book.

One thing I loved was knowing where this all took place. Essex Farm is in upstate New York, not far from the shores of Lake Champlain. This is the area my mother grew up in and where much of her family still lives. I spent many summers as a child visiting her old family home, avoiding the empty chicken house and peeking through the weathered boards of the old barn that still stands there. Kimball's description of the small town near her farm sounds like home to me. If not the one that I lived, the one that is still in my heart.

Kimball didn't expect to find her heart's pursuit to be slaughtering pigs, waking at 4 AM to tend milk cows and harvest potatoes, a man that collected dental floss "just in case".  As she says in her epilogue, "It's never the way you think it will be...Not as perfect as you hope or scary as you fear." If you love urban-girl turns farm-girl stories, if you love reading about farming and the process of building a working CSA farm, if you love a love story: The Dirty Life provides all that and more.

The Ink:

Title: The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love
Author: Kristin Kimball
Publisher: Scribner
Date: October 2010
Read: Library Hardcover