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The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love Paperback – April 12, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Kimball chucked life as a Manhattan journalist to start a cooperative farm in upstate New York with a self-taught New Paltz farmer she had interviewed for a story and later married. The Harvard-educated author, in her 30s, and Mark, also college educated and resolved to "live outside of the river of consumption," eventually found an arable 500-acre farm on Lake Champlain, first to lease then to buy. In this poignant, candid chronicle by season, Kimball writes how she and Mark infused new life into Essex Farm, and lost their hearts to it. By dint of hard work and smart planning--using draft horses rather than tractors to plow the five acres of vegetables, and raising dairy cows, and cattle, pigs, and hens for slaughter--they eventually produced a cooperative on the CSA model, in which members were able to buy a fully rounded diet. To create a self-sustaining farm was enormously ambitious, and neighbors, while well-meaning, expected them to fail. However, the couple, relying on Mark's belief in a "magic circle" of good luck, exhausted their savings and set to work. Once June hit, there was the 100-day growing season and an overabundance of vegetables to eat, and no end to the dirty, hard, fiercely satisfying tasks, winningly depicted by Kimball.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Journalist Kimball accepts an assignment to interview a lanky, determined Pennsylvania farmer who runs a community farm supplying subscribers with beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, and grains. He may look a rustic, but he has a college degree and a burning passion for natural living and initiating a barter economy. The interview very quickly turns into something of a date. His visit to her on the Lower East Side of Manhattan only intensifies these two disparate characters’ mutual attraction, and they soon launch a dream farm in the Adirondacks. She proves an eager, but inept, partner who must quickly shed her urban inhibitions and learn to slop pigs and slaughter chickens. Planning a wedding that will satisfy both the couple’s rustic friends as well as her urbane family proves daunting. Kimball has a gift for throwing into high relief contemporary Americans’ disconnect between farm-life realities and city ambitions. --Mark Knoblauch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I wanted to love this book, but found myself disappointed by the lack of deeper characterizations and motives revealed. Many of the author's actions, large and small, are described, but go unexamined and unexplained. I wanted a 'new best friend' in this book, but I found the author oddly emotionally unavailable, offering what felt to me like detached, generic platitudes for unique descriptions (however beautifully phrased), instead of deeply personal truths.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the 'shop talk' of farming that the book offered. Much of what she describes, and describes well, will be very familiar to people who have worked on a small scale organic farming operation. I found myself laughing and sighing at what was very recognizable.
Occasionally a detail is thrown into the story that to me didn't quite resonate with the rest of the character of the book - a few of her musings and memories felt gratuitous, undeveloped, or incongruous with what I found relatable about the author. Perhaps this was in part because of the 'one year' format of the book, edited for space. I would have appreciated fewer lovely vignettes in exchange for deeper reflection on the inevitable, sometimes heartbreaking compromises and conflicts that farming can push one up against. There certainly are enough how-to books out there.
At times the author's voice veers from humility to a sort of eco-pious braggadocio -- that inconsistency makes me think she hadn't quite found her comfort zone within the diverse roles that small scale family farming places one in. But it is her story, and she does tell it for the most part in a self-deprecating tone that I enjoyed. It's a fun look at her transition from city to country. I certainly respect all of the skills she managed to gain in one short year, and the time it took her to write the book while trying to raise a small child and continue to run her farm. Never having tried to put my own experience down in a book - it's easy to be a critic. And when you run a farm -- it can be like living in a fishbowl, so perhaps the emotional omissions are deliberate.
Definitely worth reading!
Though this book is a book about farming and the lives of a husband and a wife, the book ultimately connects readers to themselves and the world around them.
If I have any complaint about the book is that for all the details about the farm, I didn't feel like I got to know Kristin or Mark very well. The farm becomes such a developed "character" in the book, it's as if the people get sidelined a bit. As for the inner life and feelings of Kristin, I feel like she does a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. I get the general idea about how Mark drove her crazy at times, but I don't have concrete examples, anecdotes, images. I get that she fell in love with life on the farm, but I don't have a clear picture about how her transition from heels to work boots FELT.