Saturday, 2 June 2012

Book Review: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

I have recently become obsessed with the idea of living as locally as possible, especially when it comes to food. We get the majority of our vegetables from a local organic company, although their focus is organic first, then local, which means the winters get pretty global). I try to get local eggs and buy organic dairy, as if this is somehow more local than non-organic. We get a lot of our meat from the market. And I have visions of making a whole host of things from scratch, from condiments to breads and pastas. It’s kind of a joke though. I think I miss the mark more often than not and I’m not sure if anything I’m doing is making a difference in either the quality of the food we eat or to the local economy. Naturally, when failing at doing something small, my mind rolls towards doing something big. In this case, that’s ditching the city, moving to a farm and growing everything. Becoming completely self-sustained. 

I’ve had Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life on my night stand for nearly two years. It never felt like quite the right time to read it and these kinds of memoirs can get my idea wheels turning, so I have to be in a place where I can properly flesh them out. Packing for our yearly trip to rural Pennsylvania, I tossed it in my book bag, a striking contrast to the urban fantasy and women’s magazines that mostly filled the pile. For the first week of vacation I churned through witches, wizards, and grim reapers. And then, on a hot Thursday afternoon, as my pile of books grew ever smaller, I took The Dirty Life out to the swing. Not 20 pages in I was hooked on her tale of city girl turned farmer and was eager to use the book as evidence to David that this was the way forward for us.

Several engrossing hours later, I had finished the book and knew several things for certain: 1) Kimball’s life thus far is an amazing tale of hard work, perseverance, and relationship building in the face of chaos and stress; 2) there is no damn way we could ever in a million years do it. It comes down to a lack of knowledge, as Kimball’s man-friend turned husband had made a life already of farming, but mostly to a realization that I had about myself. I’m a hard worker, a problem solver, and doggedly determined, but my Dad has not been calling me ‘Princess’ for almost thirty years for nothing. I don’t like being dirty, or too hot, or too cold. I need 7 ½ hours of sleep. I like my creature comforts and when I’m on edge, especially traveling, nothing puts my soul to rights like a good browse through a mall or grocery store. 

This isn’t to say that Kimball herself didn’t have quite an about-face. She went from being a travel-writing New Yorker to a full partner in an enormous farming operation that didn’t do things the easy way. And the parts of her story about the challenges the farm brought to her relationship really resonated. She had to go to Hawaii for two months, back to her old life, to know that the farm with her husband was where she belonged. But the second she met her husband-to-be, she dove into the work. I just don’t think I could do it, and what this book has made me realize is that that’s ok.

What it’s given me is a reminder of what’s really important to me, which is good food, from small operations run by people who really love what they’re doing. Fresh, local ingredients that I can turn into delicious things. I’m committed to the idea of joining a proper CSA once we can afford it, hopefully next summer. And in the meantime, I’m really going to put more effort into better sourcing the things that make up our meals. Maybe the new dream can be living somewhere we can belong to Essex Farm CSA?

Available for purchase online here, here, or your favorite local bookstore.

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