Book Review: ‘The Dirty Life’ by Kristin Kimball

When you set out in your early adult life it is tempting to establish goals or to second guess the direction in which your life might head. It seems that, for my generation, we expect or are expected to be high achievers in every ‘area’ of life – career, relationships and gaining that apparently oh so important first step on the property ladder. The pressure that results from all of this often means that ‘the life list’ becomes longer and more rigid, removing any sense of fluidity of direction and increasing mental strain.

Of course, a degree of direction and stability is vital. The bills need to be paid and life can’t always be experienced with a philosophy of ‘living for the moment’. However, having ambitions and being open to change as your life develops is, I believe, vital. Now and then something happens that makes you rethink what it is that you are doing and where you are going. You might meet someone or discover something that makes you re-evaluate your life. Sometimes you need to take a side jump onto a path that you didn’t previously know in order to be happier and more fulfilled in the longer term.

This is exactly what happened to Kristin Kimball, the author of The Dirty Life, albeit slightly later in life as a thirty something, urban dwelling writer. The Dirty Life (A Story of Farming the Land and Falling in Love), tells the story of how she moved from her life of cafes and bars in New York City, combined with jetting around the world as a travel writer, to a new existence and a far more ‘simple’ life, now married with kids on a farm in the north of New York state. The book plots her journey from the writer’s desk to the dairy and the field, exploring the highs and lows of her first year on Essex Farm with her fiancee Mark.

The book was published in the UK by Portobello Books in 2011, a publishing house with a strong reputation for providing readers with innovative and individual stories. I expected to enjoy it, given the subject material and my near on obsession with any farming or nature based books. However, I didn’t know quite how much of a good read it would be. In fact, I read it in just 2 sittings, seemingly unable to put it down.

Kristin Kimball’s writing style is engaging and infectious and you certainly feel as if you are part of her life, at least for the time you read the book. She manages to present the realities of the extreme difficulties of starting a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and in learning agriculture from scratch. It is open in her storytelling and in her relationship with her husband Mark, who is a farmer through and through and somebody who has a deep understanding and drive for producing the highest quality food. This approach is integral to the success of her story.

It was Mark who convinced Kristin to change her life in the first place. She first met him when she came to his original farm to interview him in his capacity as a young farmer making a living by growing high quality vegetables. She returned a little later. Then again. And again. Their relationship blossomed and one thing led to another. Eventually Mark proposed and they decided to give everything up and find themselves a farm from which they could make a living together.

Their creation goes far beyond the scope of many conventional organic CSAs. They wanted to provide food for their members (around 150 of them) all year round, and a wide range of food – from butter and cheese to syrup, fruit, pork, beef, eggs and a whole host of different vegetables. Mark is also determined to provide grains for members so as to produce ‘everything required for a balanced diet’.

The Dirty Life is a story of relationships as much as it is a story of the land and of starting an organic farm. Kimball does not shy away from the fact that working together places significant strains at times on her relationship with Mark. For example, they often prefer to do the same thing in different ways. They will argue, sometimes to the extent that they scream at each other. However, she also explains how it is a real joy to be able to do everything together, and to be around eachother so much. It is a story of how hard work can pay off in the end; of how focusing on building something from scratch can bring immense satisfaction; and a story of how important it is to focus on mutual support and to love those around you. I highly recommend this book as a fairly easy read which packs some punches and will inspire you to be open to change in direction in your life.

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