Who doesn't enjoy a good love story? Throw in some farming adventures and us real foodies are hooked!
A good friend of ours asked the other day if I've read this book, The Dirty Life, a Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, by Kristin Kimball. Since I hadn't, I probably made her regret bringing it up, because then I roped her into doing this review for me. 🙂 Thanks, Maureen!
Kristin Kimball was a young writer living and working in the East Village in Manhattan when she traveled to Pennsylvania to interview a young farmer, named Mark. He was running a farm that produced local, organic food, which was the basis of the story that she was pitching. When she arrived, he was too busy to sit down for an interview, so he handed her a rake and told her she could hoe the broccoli. That evening, instead of doing an interview, she helped him slaughter a pig (she had been a vegetarian for 13 years at that time). The next morning, she returned to the farm and shared breakfast with Mark and his crew, “cornmeal pancakes and homemade sausage drizzled with warm maple syrup. I ate a double helping of the sausage, and that was the end of my life as a vegetarian.” After helping rake rocks out of the tomato patch, she finally was able to do a proper interview. During the interview, Mark heard a voice telling him that he would marry her. They ended up falling in love, and she realized that she too loved the work and the reward of farming. So, she left her city life to join her fiancé on his farm.
They had an opportunity to move onto a dilapidated farm and work the land in the North Country of New York state. Upon their arrival, they found the house, the barns, the milking house, the granary, the fields and orchards to be in a state of significant disrepair. Yet, they slowly tackled the project and worked toward their goal of establishing a farm that would provide a full diet — vegetables, fruits, beef, pork, chicken, grains, beans, honey, syrup and eggs, to people in their community. They committed to do it all organically and without the use of tractors. Their first purchase was a Jersey cow for milk, then two work horses that would become their power in the fields, pulling wagons full of hay bales and jugs of maple syrup, pulling plows, and an antique cultivator. Life on the farm progressed with the purchase of chickens, pigs, a beef herd, and seeds for the first planting.
The book is full of entertaining stories from their first year on the farm – horses that get frightened while pulling the plow and take off down a country road dragging the plow behind them, pigs that escape, the near death of their milk cow, Delia, after the birth of the farm’s first calf.
In the midst of the chaos, the couple’s love for real food, good cooking, organic farming and hard work is clear. Kristin writes, “The peak of summer was the crazy race that Mark had warned me about, a frantic contest of urgency. Haymaking! Fences! Harvest! Weeds! We sprinted through the late plantings of fall carrots and beets. We abused the young cabbage transplants, trotting along the row with a tray of them, throwing them to the ground, then crawling on our knees and slamming each into the dirt with one unnurturing gesture, moving on to the next. The days started at 3:45 a.m. Chores before dawn, out in the fields with the horses by the time the sun was up, then work, work, work, racing the weather, the weeds, the season.”
Due to their determination and hard work, their community assisted agriculture program had 100 members at the end of the book. Families arrived every Friday to pick up their full diet of foods produced by a truly organic farm — hand-milked cows, fields fertilized only with nutrients from a compost pile, no herbicides or pesticides, and cattle that grazed in fields of clover.
If you have an interest in agriculture, cooking, the production of organic produce and meat, this book is certainly worth the read.
Thanks so much Maureen, now I DO want to make time to read this one!
You can also listen to an interview with Kristan Kimball on National Public Radio: