I've always lived on a small "farm." Like I've told you before, I had 4-H animals. We raised pigs, horses, rabbits and chickens. Killer chickens to be exact. It's a long story, but let's just say that these chickens did not like for my brother and I to play out near their barn. Anyway, even though I've always lived around animals, I've still been very nervous about adding animals to our farm. Animals take a lot of responsibility and my husband and I don't take that lightly. With two small children, I don't want to take on more than we can handle at the moment. I'm also not the proud owner of a green thumb. I have killed bamboo....Yeah, it's that bad. And lastly, we are debt free, other than our mortgage, and we want to keep it that way. Animals are expensive. Barns, fence, feed and vet care can add up fast. So right now we have our bees and vegetable garden and I'm doing research and preparing budgets of possible expenditures.
It is this research that led me to the book I want to talk about today, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. I found it in the farm and garden section at our local library. I was intrigued because this book is written as a story (It's a memoir.), and is not just dry information. It does, however, have a lot of great information and it led me to do additional research on things mentioned in the book.
As a young reporter, Kristin is sent to a farm to do a story about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and organic farming practices. She gets put to work that very first day because there is too much to do on the farm for the farmer, Mark, to take time to be interviewed by a reporter. Long story short, she and the farmer fall in love and he asks her to give up her New York City life to buy a farm with him and start their own CSA and she does it!
The book follows Kristin during the first year on the Essex Farm. Mark, Kristin's husband, is a very different sort of fellow. He does not believe in waste or frivolity. He also doesn't really believe in money. He would much prefer a barter society, but he understands that, for a while at least, money is a necessary evil. You see Mark's quirks surface throughout the book. During this first year, Kristin and Mark are not married, so as Kristin discovers these quirks, she wonders if she may have made a mistake coming to the farm with him. But by the end of the book, while taking a freelance writing job in Hawaii to make some extra money, she realizes that she misses the farm and Mark and that she has been transformed.
As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of our thickened hands, the beds of your nails. [...] But farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become your world.
I'm amazed by her transformation and the amount of work that she does. Most of the heavy work on the farm like plowing and hauling is done by a horse team. She learns to drive the team, Sam and Silver. She milks their two cows twice a day. She takes up beekeeping and learns to slaughter chickens. I've been around animals my whole life, my parents owned a meat processing plant, and I'm still squeamish around blood! Kristin committed fully to the farm and farm life.
I'm also amazed at their farm. Mark dreamed about creating a complete diet CSA. Most CSAs only provide produce, but Mark pictured his CSA members having everything they needed coming from his farm. Members of his and Kristin's CSA received fresh milk, butter, sour cream, beef, pork, eggs, vegetables, honey, and maple syrup. They also grew and dried beans and made flour! Kristin goes into detail about learning how to use the fresh milk to make all of the dairy products and how they tapped the sugar maple trees and made syrup. Learning how and what they farmed was so interesting! Kristin mentions a few books that she used for research that I have added to my reading list. If these books helped her created a self-sustaining farm like Essex Farm, then hopefully they will help me too!
At this point you may be saying, "I don't want to start a farm, so this book is not for me." You couldn't be more wrong! As our society is increasingly trying to seek more transparency in food production, many individuals (hopefully yourself included) are looking to farmers markets and organic foods. If you are at all interested in where your food comes from or if you consider yourself a "foodie" then this book is for you as well. I really wish that Kristin had a cookbook. To listen to the way that she and Mark were able to put together elegant meals with only ingredients from their farm, makes farming sound so romantic. Kristin describes how she fell in love with Mark over a deer liver.
And there was something else about it, something more primal, a kind of craving, my body yelling EAT THAT, I NEED IT. That was my first hint that there's wisdom to the appetite, that if you clear out the white noise of processed food and listen, healthy and delicious are actually allies. [...] That might have been the same deep part of me that first told me to love Mark. Don't be an idiot, it said. The man hunts, he grows, he's strapping and healthy and tall. He'll feed you, and his genes might improve the shrimpiness of your line. LOVE HIM.
I hope that you will take time to read this book. It is AMAZING! I could continue to talk about it, but I'm looking at my word count and realize that I might be getting a bit long-winded. Plus, if I keep going then you may have no reason to read the book! Let me just leave you with one last quote.
In my experience, tranquil and simple are two things farming is not. Nor is it lucrative, stable, safe or easy. Sometimes the work is enough to make you weep. But most days I wake up grateful that I found it--tripped over it, really--and that I'm married to someone who feels the same way.
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