The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love

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From a writer who traded her single life in the big city to marry a farmer, The Dirty Life is a chronicle of a year on their sustainable farm.

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The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love

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From a writer who traded her single life in the big city to marry a farmer, The Dirty Life is a chronicle of a year on their sustainable farm.

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  • Kristin Kimball
    Kristin Kimball  

Editorial Reviews

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. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Kimball, a farmer and freelance writer, here tells the story of two loves: one with farming, and one with a man. She travels to Pennsylvania for an interview and meets Mark, a handsome farmer with a flair for culinary courtship. Driven by love and longing for a home, she follows him to northern New York, where they transform a neglected piece of land into a sustainable farm powered by horses and supported by year-round community-supported agriculture (CSA) memberships. While learning animal husbandry, nose-to-tail cooking, and maple syrup and cheese making, Kimball also learns to cope with the harsh realities of an agrarian lifestyle. VERDICT With a fiery romance at its heart, Kimball's welcome addition stands out from others in the growing genre of books on city girls turned farmers, butchers, cheese makers, and ranchers. Comparable titles include Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska's Simple Living: One Couple's Search for a Better Life and Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl.—Lisa Campbell, Univ. of Alabama Lib., Tuscaloosa
Kirkus Reviews

A freelance writer moves from Manhattan to create an organic farm in upstate New York.

When she met her future husband, Mark, Kimball was working on a story about young farmers going local and organic. The two eventually fell in love, married and moved to Essex, N.Y., to take stewardship of a 500-acre derelict farm, with dreams of making it into a community-funded agricultural project—not just vegetables, but also grain, dairy and meat. Following their utopian vision, they began raising draft horses, milked cows by hand, ran a forge and created their own energy and resources. As Kimball chronicles that first year in supple prose, the farm takes on vivid form, with the frustrations balancing the satisfactions and the dark complementing the light. Throughout the book, the author ably describes the various trials and tribulations involved in building a sugaring sled, treating the cattle for mites, dealing with flies and rats and finding the old-fashioned tools required to work with draft horses—at an auction of Amish implements, which "looked like a ZZ Top tribute band convention, all long beards, dark suits, and shades." The couple often warred with each other: Kimball is a passive-aggressive disputant, Mark a tenacious arguer, but both think they are right. "I had come to the farm with the unarticulated belief that concrete things were for dumb people and abstract things were for smart people," writes the author. She soon realized, however, that "there's no better cure for snobbery than a good ass kicking." Finally, when the harvest comes, "you feel insanely rich, no matter what you own."

A hearty, chromatic account of a meaningful accomplishment in farming, "that dirty concupiscent art."

Dominique Browning
…Kimball has a lusty appetite, and her memoir is as much a celebration of food as it is of farming…As Kimball loses her cool attitude in the round of daily chores, her writing acquires a lilting softness.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"Kimball has a gift for throwing into high relief contemporary Americans' disconnect between farm-life realities and city ambitions." —-Booklist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416551607
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 10/12/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 949,042
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristin Kimball is a farmer and a writer living in northern New York. Prior to farming, Kimball worked as a freelance writer, writing teacher, and as an assistant to a literary agent in New York City. A graduate of Harvard University, she and her husband Mark have run Essex Farm since 2003, where they live with their daughter, Jane.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 109 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 111 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 17, 2011

    great relaxing read

    This is one of the most insightful books that I've read. It's written with a beautiful poetic narrative that can only be presented by a gifted author, and a perspective on life that can only be presented by one that's been well lived.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Exceptionally well written!

    Almost makes me want to live the dirty life too...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2011

    Really enjoyed this book!

    This was a great read! I found myself completely engrossed. I would recommend this book and have twice already.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2014

    Comfortable read. Universal. I have a friend who says that fo

    Comfortable read. Universal.

    I have a friend who says that food – real food - should be dirty and bloody. In other words, fresh and clean and near to the earth. I think Kimball would agree. In ‘The Dirty Life’ she writes about love and dirt and farming, to be sure, but the book is deeper and explores ideas about success and commitment and simplicity.

    Kimball writes in a comfortable prose though her Ivy League education peeks through at times. Other reviewers note some oddities that I can’t argue with. She converts from being a long-time vegetarian to meat eater in a single night, helping her boyfriend kill a deer and then romantically feasting on its liver. Her commitments waver. There is a feeling throughout the book that she is tip-toeing through this new adventure in the way that an adrenaline junkie would: the commitment lasts as long as the feeling does. Even as the book reaches its climax, her marriage and the reaping of their first harvest, she runs off to Hawaii just in time to let her husband harvest the crop by himself.

    But I think it’s these inconsistencies that make the book more human and universal. The book isn’t about farming or living a simple life – there are much better books about those things – but it’s about the struggle to work hard and stay committed to something you choose. It’s about growing into who you want to be. As such I think it’s an excellent read. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted January 10, 2014

    Excellent book, full of humor and determination.

    Excellent book, full of humor and determination.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    Interesting if you like farming

    I totally enjoyed this book. However if your not into reading a lot about vegitation on a farm then this book isn't for you. I found the ups and downs of their farm life very interesting, but what amazed me was the people in their lives. I loved the wedding. I don't know how I would have felt when I found my new husband milking cows durring our reception.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013

    highly recommend

    I loved this book and so did my book club. I sent a copy to my 84 year old mother who grew up on a farm and she loved it also.

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  • Posted December 15, 2012

    Enjoyed every word.

    Enjoyed every word.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    Super interesting book with an engaging story line. Made me wan

    Super interesting book with an engaging story line. Made me want to leave the city and live the harder, but seemingly more fulfilling life of a farmer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2012

    An incredible story...

    ...makes you want to get your fingers in the dirt!

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  • Posted March 7, 2012

    A captivating tale of commitment and perseverance

    Kristin Kimball’s intriguing memoir, the Dirty Life, gave me a taste of a different lifestyle, one that consists purely of commitment and of hard, dirty, and rewarding work. Kimball’s story tells of her decision to leave her Harvard education, family, and whole life behind in New York City, in exchange for a life of hard farm work. Mark, her fiancé is an experienced farmer and together they take on the challenge of providing full-diet shares to their customers by means of their own farm, this diet including steak, chicken, pork, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, celery, syrup, cheese, milk, etc. And if that was not a grand enough challenge, Mark and Kimball decide to jump back a century and farm by means of horses and ploughs and their own genuine physical labor – nothing else. Their day begins at around 3 am, when Kimball and Mark must milk the cows, feed their assortment of animals, weed the fields, and anything else you can imagine that must be done on a farm. The work is never ending, but somehow the two of them develop a farm that today has grown to feed over 100 customers and employs over 20 workers.
    The success seen between Kimball and Mark is extremely inspiring, as it thoroughly shows the amount of effort required to attain what you want most, as well as the commitment. A theme of perseverance is constantly conveyed throughout Kimball’s memoir, and has the effect of showing the reader that things in life do not always come easy. They aren’t supposed to, as If they did then there would never be that essential feeling of fulfillment in life, an emotion that keeps one striving forward. Kimball must not only fight onward for her farm, but for Mark as well. Without their relationship the farm would have failed. The effort they must put in to keep each other happy while keeping the farm running proves to be quite a challenge. Thus, a theme of love is also prominent; love for the farm and all its animals and plants, and love for Mark. A message about the importance of decision making is always present, as Kimball explains how decisions determine the paths of our lives. You can make or break yourself, and others, with a yes or a no.
    My family is a health nut family, always dedicated to the thought that a good diet makes for a healthy life. The Dirty Life, hit home for me – an everyday consumer of organic foods. This book made me yearn for fresh, fresh food, straight from the source! I would recommend that those interested in health and good food read this, as it inspires one to start their own garden. Anyone up for a good story about problem solving and woman falling in love with a man and a farm should read this as well. Its detail about the effort needed to accomplish the humble act of providing food is captivating and interesting. My dislikes were the areas where there was too much attention to detail though, as this drew away from the story and my focus waivered.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011


    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I couldn't put it down, it was the rejuvenation I was looking for and didn't know...I would happily trade city life for farm life! It was so real, I wished I was her...will read it over and over again!

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    Satisfyingly Dirty Life

    The Dirty Life is the tale of a farmer and a city girl setting out to run an innovative organic-produce farm, battling the elements of nature and each other along the way. As the cream-flecked milk and salt-of-the-earth potatoes flood across the page, the hungry reader is reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy tale, chock-full of the hard work and sturdy food that built America. After the city girl's initial meeting with Farmer - shocked and fascinated by his earthiness and brazen generosity so unlike her city men - a romance ensues that is, like the steaming heaps of compost that surround it, direct and without guile. She brings him home to her family, who are more shocked than fascinated by his inside-out t-shirt, dirty crates of still-pulsating vegetables, and boxes of eggs barely cooled from the henhouse. But in the end they, as she did, fall in love with the food and embrace the man and his dream.
    This organic dream is overflowing with treasures of the loam. Perils of ice, weeds, and skeptical neighbors have to be contended with, but an overall theme emerges above the callouses of labor: plenty. There's plenty to go around. There's more than enough to share. Excesses of love, food, generosity abound. There's nothing lacking when we dig deep into The Dirty Life.

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  • Posted September 12, 2011

    A "Dirty" delight!

    My only recollections of EVER getting up at 3:45am:

    . Pulling an all-nighter in college to finish college paper or study for a test
    . Nursing a newborn
    . Insomnia

    Kristin Kimball and her husband Mark, get up routinely that early (or is that still considered night time?) to do their "chores" - everything from milking cows, to feeding chickens, to the multitude of other tasks that must be done on their farm - Essex Farm - in upstate New York.

    The Dirty Life is the story of Kristin's transformation from city chic to farmer frugal. Living the urban life in Manhattan, Kristin was a well traveled writer - who on assignment to interview an organic Pennsylvania farmer - fell in love with her subject.

    In glorious prose, Kristin recounts for us their courtship, their early trials at farming, the arduous job of raising animals, and the nemesis of both insects and weeds that inhabit their fields.

    Although not quite ready to sell my house and move to a rural outpost, I was enthralled at the transformation of Kristin's life: living in a ramshackle and dirty farm house, infested with rats; the sheer amount of energy and fatigue she and Mark invest in the land; and the happiness that blossoms forth. It was obvious to me after reading her book, that all of us spend way too much time in front of the computer! Nary a mention of texting, tweeting, or blogging - just slop, seeds, slaughter, and sunshine.

    She does not sugar coat their efforts - her memories of the farm are marked by conditions - the dry, the wet, the frozen, the abundant. It made me want to read an additional chapter, not yet written, about how the farm is fairing after the tremendous rains inflicted on upstate New York with both Hurricane Irene and tropical depression Lee.

    This was pure enjoyment - I only wish I had an Essex Farm close enough to me in which to indulge.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2011

    I enjoyed reading this book.

    Again, I enjoyed reading this book, and am very glad that Kristin shared her story with me. Thank you

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  • Posted August 17, 2011

    You'll do one of two things after reading this book...

    After reading The Dirty Life, most people will have one of two reactions. Either they will begin perusing the real estate listings for available farmland, or they will begin running and screaming at the first sound of the word "cow". This memior is at once incredibly funny and at times heartbreaking as well, but always entertaining. Written with a keen eye towards characterization and pacing; it reads like a well loved novel, except it is all true! If you enjoy a good, well told story; this is the one to get!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2011

    Loved this book!

    Wonderfully written, great story.

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  • Posted July 5, 2011

    th The gritty truth

    A fun and intelligent read about all the hard work it takes to put food on the table

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  • Posted July 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The down & dirty on farming life.

    As a child, we planted row after row of seeds by hand, picked and shucked corn, shelled beans, fought off spiders and other bugs as we gently rolled the cucumber vines and sweated many a summer evening away in various garden patches...still, we were gardening in probably less than a quarter acre. The massiveness of the project that Mark and Kristin overtook in The Dirty Life is a bit mind-boggling, but very entertaining to read about in the air-conditioned comfort of home. Mark's almost obsessively dedicated fervor and Kristin's work ethic and her writer's curiousity about how and why things work and grow combine to bring their dream to fruition. The animals, the old machinery, the wonderful neighbors, and the lovely, lovely food would be enough to earn a recommendation, but Mark and Kristin's love story seals the deal. A definite green-thumbs up for this one!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2011

    Authentic, gritty and illuminating

    Wonderful memoir and very timely treatise on 'real food' - (who knew?) Wanted to know more details about Mark and their relationship - as it was so central to such a massive transformation in her life - quite compelling

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