The Dirty Life: A Great Springtime Read ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Dirty Life: A Great Springtime Read

Author Kristin Kimball at Essex Farm.
Photo by Deborah Feingold
I've just finished The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love which chronicles author Kristin Kimball's evolution from single girl in the big city to North Country farmer, wife, and mother.

Kristin gave up her life as a freelance writer (who knew next to nothing about growing vegetables or raising livestock) living in a tiny studio apartment in New York's East Village to breathe life into a defunct, 500-acre farm in Essex, NY with her future husband, Mark, a self-taught, first-generation farmer. Now that takes balls!

Together, they created a year-round CSA that supplies their members, some 100+ families, with everything they need for a complete local diet - milk, cheese, butter, eggs, beef, pork, forty different vegetables, dried beans, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, flours, and grains. And, as if that were not ambitious enough, they farm with draft horses, not tractors.

Kimball paints a vivid, honest picture of the challenges, fears, triumphs and joys of the life she and Mark create together. She does not gloss over the anxieties and difficulties inherent in making a major lifestyle shift and taking on a truly enormous challenge. But, in the end, the picture I was left with was that of a truly grounded, rooted existence (pardon the farm-y metaphors.) Although hers is not the life she'd ever have predicted she would have, it is a very good life -- full and rich.

Kristin with the team. Photo by Deborah Feingold.
I had trouble putting it down during my waking hours and even dreamed about farming while I was reading it. Here are a few excerpts I particularly enjoyed:

Here Kimball is talking about compost - a passion of mine:
"Of all the confounding things I encountered that first year, the heat of decomposition - it's intensity and duration-was the most surprising, the one that made me want to slap my knee and say, Who knew? That heat comes from the action of hordes of organisms, some so tiny billions can live in a tablespoon of soil. They are in there, eating and multiplying and dying, feeding on and releasing the energy that the larger organisms - the plants and the animals- stored up in their time, energy that came, originally, from the sun. I think it's worth it, for wonder's sake, to stick your hand in a compost pile in winter and be burned by a series of suns that last set the summer before."

A beautiful, vivid description of the farm:
"The fields are a clock read in colors. As the days of summer passed, the palette of our world shifted from bright greens to dark greens, then ocher, dun, all the variations of gold."

On harrowing the fields the old-fashioned way, with their horses, Silver and Sam:
"The furrows smoothed and flattened out behind us. When I stopped to clear a stick from between the discs, the ground felt springy underneath my feet, like a giant trampoline. It was a good workout for the horses, who were out of shape after their time off. We stopped at the end of each pass for a rest, and they stood and blew, and the sweat dripped from their bellies onto the raw earth like a balm or a blessing."

The book also includes several recipes for Essex Farm favorites. This one was my favorite - I can't wait to try it though the peas I planted last weekend are quite a long ways from being ready to eat.

Fresh Garden Peas In Milk With Mint

A bowl of spring peas cooked in milk is worth any amount of time spent weeding and picking.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups shelled green peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A few mint leaves, finely chopped

Heat the milk and butter over medium heat in a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Add peas, salt, and pepper, and gently simmer until the peas are bright green and soft but not mushy. Remove from heat, add the mint leaves and salt and pepper to taste.

Get a copy, I think you'll enjoy it.

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Jess said...

I read her book recently and loved it.

Beth Lowe said...

This book sounds wonderful, and I love the quotes you picked out. I'm adding it to my list. I don't think I'll ever be a farmer, living on the edge of my pond/lake as I do, but a girl can dream. Thanks for the review; it was great to read.

Shannon Marie said...

I've heard of her but didn't know she had a book out. She is truly living my dream. I would love to buy acres and acres of land, have a huge garden, farm chickens, cows, goats, and sheep. My husband is the opposite - he'd prefer to live in a condo high rise downtown. It sounds like a great book - I think I'll pick it up! Thanks for the tip!