The story of a New Yorker, who fell in love with a farmer -- and became a farmer herself.
Putting off putting up the storm windows? Dawdling over raking?
Shame yourself by reading this book, in which two people work their butts off to turn a soulless, run-down farm into a thriving whole-diet CSA. If you don't know what a CSA is, you will by the time you're done. And you'll bless your own life for being so easy. And clean.
Eight years ago, Kristin Kimball was a Manhattan writer, proud of her Harvard pedigree, a vegetarian whose food came in carry-out cartons: "a series of one-night stands."
On a story she met Mark, a small-time farmer who had never owned a car. His intensity and focus bowled her over, seducing her into moving with him to northern New York to build a farm. Not the buildings, but the soil, the systems and the customers. All with $18,000 between them.
Their farm is what's called a CSA, which stands for community-supported agriculture. A growing trend, CSAs allow people without much money to step into farming. Clients pay up front for a share of the harvest, sharing the risk if Nature is cruel.
The Kimballs' 500-acre farm (he took her last name when they married) is unusual because it provides not only veggies but fruit, grains, beans, meat (beef, pork, chicken), eggs, dairy (including cheese) and even maple syrup, 12 months of the year.
And, the work is powered by draft horses.
"The Dirty Life" is an exquisite account of this couple's first year together that will have you tasting not only the sweat and tears but blood, too. Specifically, pig blood, made into sausage. Together they explore food not for the timid: deer liver, eggs boiled in maple sap, a supper that combines radish and pomegranate in the same pan.
Kimball is a graceful, luminous writer with an eye for detail. Her soon-to-be-lover's "blue jeans gone white at the thigh." Their make-shift milk strainer: "an old T-shirt tied with a bungee cord to a stainless-steel funnel." The "white purse" of a pig's stomach.
The locals at first think she is a high-end Manhattan prostitute, since she starts off wearing her city clothes -- including black cashmere -- in the barn. The couple fight. Kimball worries that she might fall out of infatuation with this exotic lifestyle, but has one insight after another about herself.
For example: "I could hold my own in cocktail conversation most places in the world. But when it came to physical work, I was virtually retarded ... I had come to the farm with the unarticulated belief that concrete things were for dumb people and abstract things were for smart people."
And: "I had always been attracted to the empty, sparkly grab bag of instant gratification, and I was beginning to learn something about the peace you can find inside an infinite challenge."
But, she writes, "Our bodies were so tired. Sometimes, in the brief moment between bed and sleep, we'd touch our fingertips together, an act we cynically called farmer love."
Their love, and Essex Farm, endure. It now has about 100 customers who pay $2,800 apiece for year-round weekly access to as much of the farm's production as they choose. The rules gently ask, however: "Please don't hoard meat."
"The Dirty Life" might make you long to fall for a lanky farmer, too. "Farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors," she writes, "makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world."
How lucky we are to be able to step into that world with no sweat. I wished for a hundred pages more.
Susan Ager, a former columnist for the Detroit Free Press, is at firstname.lastname@example.org.