Book Review: The Dirty Life

7841677 The week after we moved into the new house and the major crises of finding the boxes of clothes and dishes were over, I began to mourn. I mourned my old house. We had moved so quickly and without ceremony that I never really processed that I was leaving a house that I spent seven years renovating, much of it with my own hands. I left a house where my kids' spent almost their whole childhood. I left a house with growth marks on the wall. I had a surprising delayed reaction to moving, and I dealt with it by reading a lot. 

One of the books that I read was a memoir, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. Kimball was a freelance writer living in the East Village who liked cafes and nice clothes. On assignment, she went to Western Pennsylvania to interview a young organic farmer. And within a couple of months, they were engaged. She parts with her rent controlled city apartment (ugh!) and starts a new CSA farm from scratch with her fiancee in upstate New York (double ugh!). 

The memoir describes their first year of putting together this farm. She learns how to slaughter pigs and chickens, pickle vegetables, collect maple syrup, buy horses at an Amish auction. She develops ripped muscles from carrying milk buckets and harnessing the horses. She forges connections with her community as the curious neighbors help them pick potatoes and teach them old farming tricks. 

Dahling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue. 

Over dinner last Sunday, I told my dad about the book and he rolled his eyes. He explained, "Laura, your great grandfather ran away from a farm. All of his brothers and sisters ran away from the farm. His older brother jumped on a freight car as it passed by when he was 15 years old, which took him out of Nebraska and to Iowa. Your grandfather and his brother chose to work in the stock yards of Chicago, rather than pull a plow in the fields."

Steve piped up. "Yeah, my great grandfather was a Mennonite in Pennsylvania. He ran away and kept running until he hit Cleveland." 

Still, I liked the book. Kristin never gets preachy about organic farming. She clearly loves that life, but knows that it isn't for everyone. Her enchantment with farm life is endearing. Her book is about more than farming. It is the adventure of learning something new and doing it closely with family and friends. It's about sharing things that were made by love, even if those things aren't clean and shiny from a store. 

While I'm definitely not cut out for 5am cow milkings, I do like my garden and I love my fresh veggies from the CSA. I do love fixing things by hand. When I finished the book, I looked around at this new house and saw a hundred projects that I wanted to work on. I found the best patch on the yard to plant tomatoes next spring. I wandered around town and found a place where I can take sculpture classes. I set up my computer under the window with views of trees and sky. I organized the rag tag group of writers in my Meet-Up group. I got some pointers from the book agent. 

And I found that I had stopped mourning. 






11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dirty Life

  1. which took him out of Nebraska
    When my dad joined the Navy during a war, the recruiter looked at his shoes and asked him if he joined to get out of hauling the irrigation pipe.

  2. I like to work with my hands, but not really outdoors or in the dirt. I like to work in nice houses on nice stuff. I sometimes think I could have been happy as a butler in a grand country house. On the other hand, my ancestors who were in domestic service seem to have fled that life even faster than the ones who lived on the farm.

  3. I hope it was Boise, Idaho that the relative ran away to, as if there’s a Boise, Iowa, it’s so small that no one has ever heard of it.
    More importantly, though, so long as the author doesn’t present this stuff as the only “authentic” life, or as a Model For Everyone or something like that, I don’t see what the objection could be. People tend to get quite preachy about their ways of life, especially when they are somewhat unusual, and presenting one’s personal tastes as moral imperatives is extremely annoying, but if that’s avoided, it’s often fun and useful to learn about other interesting ways of life.

  4. presenting one’s personal tastes as moral imperatives is extremely annoying
    This is why I can’t talk food with vegetarians or Atkins people.

  5. “And I found that I had stopped mourning”. I had a big exhale when I read this sentence. I have been in mourning too for the big city. Vancouver is lovely and beautiful in a way that only the west coast can be but it ain’t Toronto. But it’s the best place for my family in a zillion different ways – mostly longterm friends and family.
    Nesting helps and finding community helps too…

  6. I grew up on a small cattle ranch. The cows mainly take care of themselves day-to-day (so much better than chickens!), but when they did need attention, you’d face such issues as being out all day in 33 degree rain (for instance for a round-up), accidentally running a hypodermic needle through your hand while trying to doctor a sick and balky cow, getting stepped on by a cow or such minor indignities as miscalculating the depth of some liquid manure and having it overflow the tops of your rubber boots or slipping in liquid mud and coming up mud from head to foot.

  7. I personally believe it’s no longer valid to compare farm life from 100 years ago to farm life today. Exhibit A: the air-conditioned combine. Exhibit B: a computer with an Internet connection. I could go on but I’ll spare you.
    Some things haven’t changed: the “the cows need care now, regardless of your deadline” nature of farm work, the dependence upon the weather, the need to live in a place that doesn’t have tons of other people, the generally quiet/boring life you live out on the farm.
    The real issue with farming today, IMHO, is the fact that you just can’t make any money at it. The farmers I know are suffering from *poverty*, and to a certain extent health problems caused by all the chemicals they work with. But plenty of people have seen their hourly rate go down far enough that they’re working hours similar to modern farmers just to get by. (Maybe less stinky working conditions, tho … and in a less boring spot.)

  8. The real issue with farming today, IMHO, is the fact that you just can’t make any money at it.
    If you weren’t flooded out, this is a very good year for corn and beans.

  9. “If you weren’t flooded out, this is a very good year for corn and beans.”
    Don’t forget the drought this year. I think a lot of farmers in Texas just gave up very early in the season and claimed crop insurance. Here’s a story on the disastrous cotton situation:
    And here’s a corn story:
    We had weeks and weeks of over 100 degree temperatures.

  10. isn’t the real problem that you can’t make money at any form of craft? I’m presuming the industrial farms are still making money, though it’s possible that most of those are moving abroad, a trend of all manual labor. But the problem seems to be that you can’t craft farm, sew, design, one-off items and make money.

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