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The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love Paperback – April 12, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 423 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

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 the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416551611
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416551614
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (423 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Although I am generally no fan of the memoir, I was deeply moved by The Dirty Life. Author Kristin Kimball first dissects her decision to give up a freelance writing career and a rent-controlled NYC apartment to start a sustainable agricultural venture with her then-fiance in upstate New York. She then smartly breaks the rest of the book up by season, going into just enough detail about the daily operations of the farm and the crises that crop up to draw the reader in and keep him or her invested in the outcome of this sometimes overwhelming undertaking.

Kimball's voice is refreshingly unsentimental, and even in her darkest hour of the soul, she never resorts to whining. She has her doubts, to be sure, which make for an authentic, compelling read. I recommend this memoir to anyone looking for a well-written story not just about building a farm from the ground up, but also about handling the unexpected turns life sometimes takes.
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Format: Hardcover
This book grabs your soul. You don't want to put it down until you've consumed every last morsel. It is truly a love story! A story about the love between a man & a woman, love between farmers & love between a community & a farm. It is a story about a man who so believed in a dream that he made it materialize in spite of being surrounded by skeptics & about a woman who lost her heart to a man and to the land. This is a powerful book that is destined to be an award winning movie. A man, a woman & a community come together to make a dream a reality. It proves that life is about so much more than money. Money can not buy what the Kimballs have built!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, very timely with our national interest in eating local and sustainable food, is a touching account of a woman falling in life with a man and falling in love with the land they work. Anyone who has ever been drawn to growing their own food, or who has nostalgic memories of parents or grandparents doing so, will be greatly rewarded by this book. Kimball's writing style is direct, enjoyable, and quite humorous. A story she recounts about both she and her soon-to-be husband's parents meeting for the first time is absolutely hilarious.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
While at first glance it seems this memoir is for those who know farm life, it holds more for those who don't. Kristin Kimball beautifully describes the rawness and romanticism of working hard with someone you love to achieve a dream. It renews your faith in a younger generation that values the way farms used to be - family owned and community supported, both frustrating and fantastic, and eternally dirty. Kimball's descriptive phrasing will make you long to sip straight from the sap bucket again.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this book.

I was looking forward to romanticized stories on farming and fresh, local food. But I got so much more.

Kristin Kimball allowed me to explore a world I'd never really understood with language that's beautiful, evocative and direct.

More than just giving me a window into the farming life, I felt like I could touch and taste it. The grueling work. The connection with the animals. The joy of creation right alongside the very real fear of failure. I felt like I lived the stories, met the people, and ate the food.

Reading "The Dirty Life" is like receiving a wonderfully generous gift. You're able to accept it without feeling guilty for not wanting to make the same trade-offs. You just want to say a heartfelt "thank you" and share it with the people you care about.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have longed for, and not found, many modern biographical books out there about women who farm. I was excited to find this memoir, and enjoyed it, but despite the talented writing, I felt a lack of connection to the author and the people she includes in her story.

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.
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