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

I just finished reading the most enjoyable book – one that I so loved reading that I am recommending it to many, many of my friends. This is a true story told in memoir fashion that is full of heart, hope, and the satisfaction of a day’s hard work.

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

In this story you are welcomed right away into Kristin’s life sitting right alongside her as she watches her husband Mark whip up dinner for the two of them. They way she describes her husband cooking is a rather seductive scene. From selecting the diner ingredients, the sizzling of the pans, a drizzle of red wine reduction, to the beautiful colors of the plate placed before her, Kristin had me hooked. Maybe because I am a foodie, maybe because I love watching my husband cook, maybe because my daughter is a farmer and I appreciate the hard work involved in producing food, or maybe simply because this is a heartfelt story that is beautifully written. Whatever the reason, his was a story that I could not put down from the get-go.

The prologue gives you a glimpse of Kristin’s life on the farm, but the story really started seven years prior. At that time, Kristin was working as a writer in New York City. As a young professional and Harvard graduate, she loves the urban life, meeting friends for drinks after work, playing pinball in the local bar, and traveling as a writer. She is living the life that she had worked hard at creating for herself. She thought she had everything lined up and in order.

It is when she is sent on a writing assignment to interview and write about a farmer named Mark in Pennsylvania, that Kristin’s life takes a slow and wide arc of a turn.  A turn that has her thinking of her time spent helping out on the farm – while waiting to interview the ever-moving, ever-busy farmer Mark – she was put to good use in weeding a field. She continues to help out while waiting for her chance to sit and talk with this man. Her time on the farm is in complete juxtaposition to her real life in NYC.

Yet she is intrigued. Something about working the land, producing food, the physicality of the job, and Mark himself continue to pull on her heart. Kristin is very, very hesitant to accept this turn of life events and all through the novel we see her struggle. While committing on one level, she is always holding a little bit back. I love this level of honesty that Kristin shares about her life and her thinking. Her relationship with Mark is real. Her relationship with the land is real – and both of those are challenging and rewarding. Both the land and Mark have taken up residence in her heart, and Kristin struggles with the work and commitment involved. That is until the end. As in all good life stories, lessons are learned, people grow, and epiphanies are realized.

This memoir takes us through the first year of Kristin and Mark acquiring land and getting a farm up and running. This is the birth of Essex Farm. From cleaning out the abandoned buildings, prepping the soil, and ordering seeds; from birthing their first calf to buying draft horses to work the land – the two have a vision of what their farm will be. It is no small order and the trials and tribulations are humorous and arduous. Over the course of four seasons the two see their dream of creating a full diet CSA come to life. A CSA that provides more than produce, but also includes dairy, eggs, meat, and grain.

This really is a love story. A story that I highly recommend!

As my readers know, my daughter Alyssa is a farmer. I have loved watching her grow in her job, and I marvel at the love she has for the land and of the food that she produces. There is so much knowledge that needs to be acquired in order to farm successfully, and then there is another whole side of the job that relies on the cooperation of Mother Nature. Spending time with my daughter, listening to her stories and seeing her bloom right alongside her growing responsibilities as Agriculture Supervisor at Rock Bottom Ranch Aspen Center for Environmental Studies fills me with pride. All of these beautiful farming photos are of life on Rock Bottom, not Essex Farm.

I am not a farmer. My vegetable garden has some good seasons and can produce some yummy cherry tomatoes, peppers, and zucchinis – but that is the extent of my gardening and that does not even come close to farming.

Reading about Kristin’s journey really helped me see the farming life through another set of eyes. My daughter Alyssa never intended to become a farmer – although she has always had a love for food and studied nutritional sciences in college. It was when she started meeting farmers when she worked with a Farm to School non-profit that she started feeling the tug of the land.

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

A tug that, like Kristin, Alyssa was not able to ignore.

Whether you have a connection to farming or not – this book is worth the read! I promise you – you will fall into this story.

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