On Love and Farming: The Dirty Life | Civil Eats

On Love and Farming: The Dirty Life

Kristin Kimball is an accidental agrarian. A reporter in her early thirties living in New York City, she fell for a farmer in upstate New York–the subject of a story she was writing–and then fell in love with farming with him at Essex Farm. She tells the story of leaving the city to grow food and more in her new book The Dirty Life, a compelling memoir that gives insight into the growing young farmer movement in America.

You will dig The Dirty Life if you are simply curious about how young farmers are making a go at it, breaking the industrial mold, and rebuilding our agricultural system one farm, one community at a time. And if you are a young farmer, there is plenty here to learn from as Kimball weaves her story together with elegant, and at times playful, prose. It’s also possible that reading The Dirty Life will spark an interest in farming and farmers, even if you’ve never tended a flower bed (making it a great read for the parents of young farmers, who might not quite understand why their college-educated son or daughter would want to put their hands in the dirt for a living).

But you will certainly be unable to put the book down if you are like me–a city dweller who dreams of owning and growing on a patch of land someday. In fact, should find yourself in that position, reading this book could be downright painful. You see, a farm requires your senses to be awake. And the trials of the farm, while frustrating, read like an adventure compared to working in an office cubicle somewhere. Here’s Kimball’s lament of weeds, for example:

“Farming, I discovered, is a great and ongoing war. The farmers are continually fighting to keep nature behind the hedgerow, and nature is continually fighting to overtake the field. Inside the ramparts are the sativas, the cultivated plants, soft and vulnerable, too highbred and civilized for fighting. Aligned with nature, there are weeds, tough foot soldiers, evolved for battle. As we approached the solstice, both sides were at full tilt, stoked by rain and the abundance of sun.”

Farming is no easy pursuit. As Kimball shows, sometimes your milk cow gets attacked by a dog, or the financial uncertainty puts a strain on your relationship, or perhaps your neighbors think you are cuckoo when they find out you are using draft horses to grow a complete diet (meat, grain, vegetables, etc.) for an uncertain amount of people. But there is so much joy in it too–in taking simple ingredients and preparing a delicious meal (even when cooking up a late winter pigeon from the barn), the challenge of the work itself and the community that springs up around a farm. Kimball writes, “As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you.”

newsmatch banner 2022

There has yet to be a new entrant, first-generation farmer to set down words so lucid about the purpose and desires behind the (re)emerging direct-to-consumer, diverse crop model of farming. Writing both of the brutal and beautiful sides of the work, Kimball seems to be saying, “If I can do it, so can you.” Part romance thriller, part guidebook, part high-minded manifesto, The Dirty Life is the kind of book that stays with you, like a softly whispered provocation. Get dirty! it says. The work is hard but satisfying, and you will eat well.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

Today’s food system is complex.

Invest in nonprofit journalism that tells the whole story.

Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Love this Paula! Thanks for letting us know about this book.

More from

Agroecology

Featured

Elena Terry, (left) and Zoe Fess smile after showcasing Seedy SassSquash, a signature family dish, during the Smithsonian’s

This Mother-Daughter Team Is Sharing Food Traditions from the Ho-Chunk Nation

Through their nonprofit Wild Bearies, Elena Terry and Zoe Fess are advancing intergenerational seed-saving and knowledge-keeping. A recent spotlight at the Smithsonian is helping them make strides.

Popular

Absent Federal Oversight of Animal Agriculture Safety, States and Others Step Up for Change

A happy and healthy-looking worker in a clean and well-lit dairy. Photo credit: Vera Chang.

Tyson Says Its Nurses Help Workers. Critics Charge They Stymie OSHA.

An anonymous worker, 48, from Guatemala, has worked at the Tyson in Green Forest, Arkansas, for 20 years. She needs carpal tunnel surgery in both arms, and Tyson doctors have confirmed that she needs it. However, Tyson has told her the company will not cover the cost of the surgery. Her husband, also a Tyson worker, died of COVID in 2020. (Photo by Jacky Muniello for Civil Eats)

Biogas Expansion May Compound Worker Risks

An overhead view of an anaerobic digester pond next to animal barns and a cornfield. (Photo credit: Maas Energy)

‘I Was Coughing So Hard I Would Throw Up’

An animal-ag worker carries two piglets in a CAFO.