Driven inside by days that are darker and colder, one of my intentions has been to read more. I renewed by library card and promptly started scouring internet lists for book suggestions. That’s where I found The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball. I had expected it to be about food – which it is – but it’s so much grittier. Such a raw, and sometimes squeamish, look at where our food really comes from. I grew up on a farm. I thought I got it. But this book makes me think otherwise.
Ten years ago Kristin was in her early 30’s and enjoying the New York lifestyle. A Harvard graduate, she worked for a literary agency, taught some creative writing classes and picked up freelance writing jobs along the way.
About this time, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation was shedding light on some of the more shady corners of the food system. Kristin started wondering who out there was doing things right. “I found there was all these really interesting young farmers who had graduated with fancy degrees, from good colleges, and could have done anything with their lives and had decided to go into farming,” she says in an interview on PBS. She set out to meet some of these growers and that’s what initially took her to a small community sustainable agriculture (CSA) farm in Pennsylvania. The plan was to interview the farmer, Mark, and work on the land for a few days to get some first hand experience.
And then she fell in love. First, with farming. Second with the farmer. The Dirty Life is the story of how both unfold.
It must have been love as Kristen gave up her rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan to join Mark in the rehabilitation of a neglected 500-acre farm in Essex, New York with a dream of creating a full diet CSA. One that would supply everything from grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken; eggs and milk; grains and flour; fruit, herbs and vegetables. There was no model for them to follow as it was the first of its kind, as far as they knew.
In New York, Kristen would just be getting home at 4:00 am. Now that’s when she was getting up to milk cows, clean stalls, and harness the draft horses that were transforming the land into a self-supporting farm. She and Mark learned basic veterinary skills. They slaughtered their meat. They tapped trees and made maple syrup. They waged war on bindweed. They fell in bed well after dark to get up to do it all again the next day. Every day. No weekends off. No vacations.
They become part of the small community. Long forgotten machinery is pulled out of barns and tinkered with by dusty old farmers until it’s useable again. The local butcher lends a hand, and freezer space, when they’re short on both. Neighbors show up to help when the harvest is overwhelming.
This is certainly not a romanticized story. It’s one of unbelievably hard work and dedication, both to the farm and the relationship.
The local food movement doesn’t get much more local, or sustainable. CSA members pick up each Friday afternoon year around and take what, and as much as, they want. They are encouraged to freeze, can and preserve to extend the root cellar offerings of the winter. The handful of members they had that first year has now grown to over 225.
The Kimballs have brought the old-style family farm back – it’s now just for a really large family.
Makes me wish there was something like this in Boise. Throw in a few bottles of wine and a full diet it would be indeed!