I’m not sure what I expected to get from ‘The Dirty Life’ by Kristin Kimball. I have a few books about the experiences of people, or a family, who went back to the land or tried their hand at farming. I know that many of them are depressing, but I felt like this one would be upbeat. That said, I was glad to find that Kimball put in the bad experiences as well as the good, giving a very balanced picture of what the whole thing has been like for her over the last seven years. The bulk of the book details experiences from the first year, but she does give snippets of information about the years that follow, specifically information pertaining to things you, as a reader, learned about year one.
The things I liked best about the book are a visceral tug of ‘lust and admiration’ for her cooking husband right at the beginning, the information about their using draft horses for farm work, her learned understanding that things die merely because that is how nature works (or the nature of agriculture, your choice). I love that there are people who want to help at every turn, I love the insights into how smaller communities work and how saying nothing at all can still count as ‘visiting’ someone. I like that someone can be terrified to commit to someone else and be happy together six years later. I like that even though it’s clearly difficult to begin a farm like theirs, that it gets in her soul and won’t let her give it up completely even if she tries to walk away.
The most important part of their story, I feel, is what they’re trying to do with their farm. The idea of a ‘take as much as you need’ CSA that provides all aspects of one’s diet is novel, intriguing, and sounds wonderful. Seven years into it and they are going strong, but will this style catch on? It’s certainly hard to provide everything people eat (or most everything, they admit they cannot provide citrus where they are in Pennsylvania), so I find it fascinating that they are doing it and doing it well. One has to recognize that they found a good set of bones, i.e., a farm that already had certain things established, such as a ‘sugar bush’ which is a grove of sugar maples. This allowed them to immediately offer a source of sugar that would take someone planting from scratch some 25 years to achieve. However, they went in full boar, and they’re still going. For all the hardship and failures, they’ve done what they set out to do and it’s certainly an enviable endeavor.
There are a lot of things I could say about the book, but I really think that the content will affect everyone differently. Tears come to my eyes as stories are recounted of draft horses partnering with man in the most unlikely times and ways, but it may be uninteresting to someone else.
I think it’s a book anyone who wants to go back to the land should read. Farming is not sunshine and daisies (though they can be present), but it’s not bound to fail either. The more one knows, the better prepared they’ll be. So if you’re thinking about it? Read this too.