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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Overview

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

From a “graceful, luminous writer with an eye for detail,” this riveting memoir explores a year on a sustainable farm—and the real world epitome of Michael Pollan’s food philosophy.

"This book is the story of the two love affairs that interrupted the trajectory of my life: one with farming—that dirty, concupiscent art—and the other with a complicated and exasperating farmer."

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 their first year on Essex Farm, from the cold North Country winter through the following harvest season—complete with their wedding in the loft of the barn.

Kimball and her husband had a plan: to grow everything needed to feed a community. It was an ambitious idea, a bit romantic, and it worked. Every Friday evening, all year round, a hundred people travel to Essex Farm to pick up their weekly share of the "whole diet"—beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and forty different vegetables—produced by the farm. The work is done by draft horses instead of tractors, and the fertility comes from compost. Kimball’s vivid descriptions of landscape, food, cooking—and marriage—are irresistible.

"As much as you transform the land by farming," she writes, "farming transforms you." In her old life, Kimball would stay out until four a.m., wear heels, and carry a handbag. Now she wakes up at four, wears Carhartts, and carries a pocket knife. At Essex Farm, she discovers the wrenching pleasures of physical work, learns that good food is at the center of a good life, falls deeply in love, and finally finds the engagement and commitment she craved in the form of a man, a small town, and a beautiful piece of land

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416551614
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 04/12/2011
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 121,860
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, 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.

INTRODUCTION

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.


TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

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?

ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

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 www.pickyourown.org 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 www.learntopreserve.com for tips and ideas.

5. Listen to Kristin Kimball discuss The Dirty Life on NPR’s All Things Considered by going to http://www.npr.org/2010/11/12/131268939/-the-dirty-life-from-city-girl-to-hog-butcher?ft=1&f=1032. 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. 111 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.
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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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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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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...makes you want to get your fingers in the dirt!
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NattiFranz More than 1 year ago
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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