Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Down and Dirty

Impure thoughts from Green Bean.

A month or so ago, a Facebook friend raved about a new book she was reading - The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. I must confess that I, of literary love and former English major, haven't read a book in eons. Too busy with the kids, their school, with the new house, the new garden, and yet, for some reason, this book appealed. I reserved a copy at my local library and figured if I never got around to reading it, I'd only be out the $.75 reservation fee.

The Dirty Life chronicles the autobiographical of a jaded New York City reporter who falls in love with a rural farmer and with farming. The author, Kristin, met her husband Mark on a Pennsylvania farm and later relocates with him to carve out a fruitful farm on virtually abandoned land in upstate New York. The book tracks the first rocky (literally) year in which the couple conceived of the idea of creating a full-diet CSA from their farm. They hoped to offer vegetables, meat, maple syrup, dried beans and more to their patrons - all by using horses instead of tractors. Learning on the fly and from borrowed books, Kristin and Mark soon find themselves knee-deep in herds of cattle, dairy cows, piglets, and horses pulling an Amish-plow.

Reminiscent of Animal Vegetable Miracle, this book too uncovers how hard farming can be, true losses, frustration, and the miracle of a successful crop. Indeed, I read this book as quickly - if not more so - than Barbara Kingsolver's book as Kristin Kimball is not only a fabulous storyteller but also an artisan with words, drawing the reader into the beauty and pain of her situation. More than Animal Vegetable Miracle, though, The Dirty Life resonates with authenticity. This book does not document a year's experiment but a leap of faith, a forever.

Kristin paints her husband, Mark, the true farmer of the pair, with an honest brush. She presents his oddities, his unusual beliefs fairly. Mark, at one point, tells her that he has a "magic circle" that takes care of him. That he does the right thing and it is done to him. In truth, his life does seem to have worked that way and I borrowed a bit of that belief when I handed out eggs to neighbors last week.

If you need another reason to pick up this romp of a book consider this. The Dirty Life offers a peek into the new agriculture. Just five years ago, foodies everywhere bemoaned the fact that the average farmer was in his or her sixties. No more. Last month, the New York Times hailed the coming of a new generation of farmers. This new generation is determined to right the wrongs of industrial farming. To go organic, on a small scale. They're in, they're the next big thing, and The Dirty Life showcases - whether meant to or not - life as a hipster farmer. If only they would have named their farm RadicchioHead instead of Essex Farm . . .

Oh well, pick up a copy anyway and fall in love with farming!


Farmer's Daughter said...

I'm sorry... you have reservation fees at the library??? Ours are free! (And I'll be reserving this one after I finish Better Off!)

Daisy said...

I really liked Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I'm going to look for this one!

AmazinAlison said...

Thank you for the review! I'd not heard of this book. The story reminds me a bit of my friends in Sebastapol. My girlfriend never thought she'd be living on a farm and now she is knee deep in compost, girliegirls, blueberries and all sorts of vegetative experiments!

Green Bean said...

@Abbie: $.75. Worth every penny! And yes, everything really is more expensive in CA. ;-)

@Daisy: Let me know what you think. It took me all of 36 hours to devour this one.

@Alison: What a fun story! And Sebastapol is just a hop, skip and a jump from where we're at. You should have her guest post sometime. I love hearing from folks who have been brave enough to take the plunge.


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