The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

by Kristin Kimball


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416551614
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 04/12/2011
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 141,695
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About 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 and the author of The Dirty Life and Good Husbandry, she and her husband Mark have run Essex Farm since 2003, where they live with their two daughters.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Dirty Life includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him. The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of Kristin’s discovery of the pleasures of physical work, that good food is at the center of a good life, and ultimately of love.


1. Kristin was a freelance writer in New York City, which gave her the opportunity to travel around the world. When she first met Mark on his farm, she felt like a for­eigner. In what ways do you think this feeling comforted her? Were you surprised when the situation flipped and Kristin felt foreign to the life she used to lead in the city?

2. In what ways did Kimball’s yearning for a home sway her decision to leave the city and start a new life with Mark? If you were put in a similar situation, do you think you would have made the same decision? Why or why not? What is your own personal definition of “home”?

3. Mark and Kristin start a farm that aims to provide a whole diet for their year-round members. If a farm in your area did the same thing, would you become a member? How would it change the way you cook and eat?

4. The first year on Essex Farm was full of trial and error. Kristin had never farmed before and much of her knowl­edge came from her neighbors and from books. In what ways did all of the mishaps shape Kristin and change her perspective?

5. One of the biggest adjustments Kristin has to make when moving to Essex Farm is learning to live with the absence of instant gratification. She finds that a farmer must continuously put forth effort in order to reap bene­fits. How does Kristin respond to this new kind of work? How does her definition of “satisfaction” change? Would you be able to accommodate a similar change?

6. The Dirty Life is segmented into seasons. What are the underlying issues that take place within each season and how do they relate to the year in full?

7. Have your views on sustainable farming changed after reading about the trials and triumphs of Essex Farm? Have your views on farm-fresh food versus supermarket food changed?

8. Kristin repeatedly finds that her prior assumptions about farming and farmers are false. Do you think her stereo­types were the same as those of most Americans or just people who live in urban areas?

9. As a new farmer, Kristin struggles with where she fits in the socioeconomic spectrum. It bothers her when a neighbor brings over some kitchen things because she thinks Kristin is needy. Later, Kristin writes that farming makes her feel rich even though she’s not. What makes people feel poor or rich? How much is the feeling related to money?

10. Why do you think Kristin goes from being a vegetarian to an omnivore after helping Mark slaughter a pig?

11. Kristin writes that there are two types of marriages: the comfortable kind and the fiery kind. Do you agree?


1. Take a trip to a local farm with your book group to observe the work that goes into its daily management and produc­tion. Visit to find a farm near you!

2. Kristin and Mark raise a variety of produce. Kristin recalls the monotonous pleasures of planting, weeding, and har­vesting. Try planting a garden at home to gain a greater understanding of the challenges and rewards of growing your own produce.

3. Make a meal with your book group using only locally grown and seasonal food. If possible, talk to the farmer who grew it. How does this change your experience of cooking and eating it?

4. Kristin spends part of the harvest season putting up food for winter. Consider buying a quantity of food in season and getting together with your book group to preserve it. Visit for tips and ideas.

5. Listen to Kristin Kimball discuss The Dirty Life on NPR’s All Things Considered by going to Learn about how Kristin came up with the title, the best way to eat a potato, and see pictures of Essex Farm!

Customer Reviews

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Dirty Life 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 120 reviews.
Neha Pandit More than 1 year ago
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.
nhces29 More than 1 year ago
Almost makes me want to live the dirty life too...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good read, will make you want to become a farmer.
CarolinaJayBird on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I loved this book. I have a recurring romantic fantasy about living and working on a farm, spending a lot of time outdoors and eating only healthy food. What¿s nice about this book is that it does reveal that notion to be a fantasy, but it does it without complaint. This is a story about how someone found her calling by falling in love, first with a man, then with his way of life. I liked the subject matter and the writing, but most of all I liked the honesty of it. And I went to the farmer¿s market with more money to support my local farmers when I was finished. I¿m not tough enough for the dirty life, but I¿m smart enough to appreciate the people that are.
amanderson on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This was great; entertaining, informative, and interesting. I found it to be a fast read. I highly recommend it if you're interested in farming, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and the whole back to the land, local foods movement. It's about the beginnings of an unusual CSA farm in upstate New York, written from the point of view of a former city girl. They serve about 100 customers who pay $2900 a person for supplies of beef, chicken, pork, eggs, dairy, cheese, some fruit, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, and veggies enough both to eat and can all they want. They use plow horses rather than tractors. The author was a thirty-something freelance journalist living in Manhattan, shopping, frequenting cafes, going to parties, and sometimes traveling the world for stories, who goes to interview an also 30-something successful CSA farmer on leased land in Pennsylvania. She depicts him as an appealing, eccentric, kind of larger than life character; highly physical, energetic, very verbal and passionate about his beliefs. I love her initial paragraphs describing his philosophy on life, written in a stream of consciousness sort of way. Amusing and appealing. She's not a farmer, but she helps hoe the broccoli and slaughter a pig before she's done with the visit and interview. They fall in love, despite her reservations about the farming lifestyle and his hippy proclivities. He convinces her to look for farmland together where they can eventually build a home and run a more complete CSA together - meat, eggs, dairy, grains, fruit, etc., as well as veggies. The book details their struggle with limited funds to build that farm on 500 rundown acres (5 of it for their veggies) in Essex, New York, near Lake Champlain. She shares her learning process as a city girl new to farming who falls in love with it, as well as interesting, very readable details about aspects of farming and the mishaps and hard work involved. It's also the story of their relationship with each other and with the community around them. An engaging story.
melaniehope on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Really good writing and such an interesting story of 2 people becoming first generation farmers. Loved the ups and downs they experienced and the risk they took to pursue a dream. Now if only I could get some one to GIVE me 500 acres...
JackieBlem on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Kristin was very much a city girl until a writing assignment brought her to Mark's small plot of land where he was growing food to feed many, many families. It was love at first sight, at least for the farming. Falling for Mark didn't take too much more time after that. They get together and find a farm that a generous man who fell for the both of them let them have for free for a year. It was no prize, at least to the eye, but they dive in and manage to have it up and running within a year. It's completely organic and very old school--the cows are milked by hand, the chickens free range during the day, and most of the heavy work is done with horses and old fashioned farming tools. Their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)is a new model--the idea is that the members can be completely supported by the produce, meat, eggs and cheese they can pick up weekly year round that should require very little to no additional grocery purchasing. They are up to 80 acres that they now own and 100 members and counting. It is a completely fascinating story of what the love of the land and the desire to feed people can do for individuals and communities, and what potential impact that could have on a global scale, with no varnish on how difficult and demanding the work is. Loved it!
sunflowerandzucchini on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Great story, but not terrifically written, and while it started out with a higher purpose of talking about our relationship with food, it ended up being much more about her being a farmer - it lost some of its thoughtfulness along the way. Paled in comparison, ultimately, to Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle.
mlanzotti on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Kristan Kimball, the author, was a single,thirtysomething New York writer when she went to interview a young farmer. They fell in love or something like it, and she moved with him to a farmers life. She writes with equal ease about the backbreaking amount of work,the sadness of a horse dying, and the matter of fact rituals of butchering farm animals for meat. A excellent read!
frisbeesage on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Kristin Kimball was living the high, city life, partying late into the night, wearing the latest fashions. A journalist in her mid thirties, she was yearning for something different, something that felt more like home. When she is sent to write an article on a young man running a local farm she finds what she is looking for in both the man and his dreams of a home on a farm. Soon the two of them are ensconced on a 500 acre farm trying to realize Mark's vision of a farm that would provide families with all the food they need for a year. Sound daunting? Raising chickens and cows, milking, making cheese, growing vegetables, sugaring maple trees, harvesting and marketing all that to a skeptical, small town? Now consider that the farm is run-down and long unused, they hired no help the first year, and they did almost all the heavy work with a team of draft horses! As you can imagine, many adventures, tragedies and triumphs came out of that one year.Kristin Kimball does an admirable job recounting the year that changed her life so drastically. She has a very straightforward and honest way of expressing what it was like to fall in love with Mark and his way of life. She never glosses over the incredible amount of work and the tough emotions she went through. The book is fun too. Its a real pleasure to discover the secrets of farming alongside Kristin as she shares the experience of the first calf born, picking out seeds to buy in the winter, and eating the first new potatoes out in the field. I really enjoyed this book!
Eeekievonkane on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Wow! Kimball writes beautifully and honestly. Fascinating transformation.
SarahEHWilson on LibraryThing 7 months ago
So often these kind of memoirs are downright irritating, romantic and moralistic musings on our alienation from the earth blah blah blah. This book is nothing like that. There is absolutely no hiding the sheer blistering hard work of being a farmer (especially way up north in New York State!!). What makes the story compelling is how the unlikely candidate of the author becomes converted to and transformed by the sheer hard work itself. There is no mysticism here, and the good life is not a facile choice for the rich. After 30 pages I wanted to be a farmer myself. After 100 I wanted never to be a farmer at all, but by the end I definitely wished I was her neighbor and could sign up to indulge in this community-supported agriculture!
Mitton More than 1 year ago
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.
Devinzgrandma More than 1 year ago
Excellent book, full of humor and determination.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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.
Sglo More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed every word.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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