Book Review: “The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love”

a-dirty-life-book-review-becca-garber

“I got a stack of books at the library,” I told Elliott on a video chat last week.  “I’m so excited to read them.”  My eyes ran over the stack lovingly: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, The Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.

“Don’t tell me,” Elliott predicted, “it’s a bunch of non-fiction by random people.”

I glanced at the stack of books again in astonishment.  Ummm… yep.  They all were.  Well well well.  Guess he knows me!

I started one of the books, but it was downstairs one night while I was nursing Gil, so I picked up The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love.  Right from the first lines of the Prologue, I was hooked:

“Saturday night, midwinter.  The farmhouse has been dark for hours and the crew has all gone home.  We light a fire and open two bottles of our friend Brian’s homemade beer, and as I wash up the milking things Mark begins to cook for me, a farmer’s expression of intimacy.  He is perfectly sure of himself in the kitchen, wasting no movement, and watching him fills me with a combination of admiration and lust, like a rock star’s groupie.  He has chosen a fine-looking chuck steak from the side of beef we butchered this week and has brought an assembly of vegetables from the root cellar.  Humming, he rummages through the fridge and comes out with a pint of rich, gelatinous chicken stock and a pomegranate, the latter a gift from my friend Amelia, who brought it up from New York City….”

Thus begins the beautiful memoir of Kristin Kimball, a NYC writer who went looking for a young farmer to interview about the burgeoning back-to-the-land movement.  When she left Mark’s farm in Pennsylvania, she walked away with more than a story.  Within two years, the two of them were leasing their own farm in the North Country of New York state with the ambitious plan of creating a farm that would provide virtually all the food their subscribers needed to live: vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, all kinds and cuts of meat, and even maple syrup.

Their story of their first year of farming together — complete with their beautiful wedding in the barn loft — kept me captured for all of two days.  I could hardly put the book down.  It wasn’t just the fact that this was a classic story of desperate humans working with nature, creating something beautiful out of something equally beautiful and yet just as broken as themselves.  It was also Kristin Kimball’s writing, her exquisite skill with words.  I read a few pages aloud at dinner to my family, and they sighed and smiled through the whole reading before applauding at the end.

Like many of us, Elliott and I harbor our own dreams of having a small “farm” one day: a vegetable garden for fresh produce, chickens for eggs and meat, goats for milk and cheese, and maybe a Jersey cow to try our hands at butter and fresh milk.  This beautiful memoir fanned the flame of those dreams.  Now we just need the kids to grow up a bit so they can gather the eggs each morning…

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17 Responses to Book Review: “The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love”

  1. Effie Powell October 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    you had me at: “Mark began to cook for me, a farmer’s expression of intimacy.” can’t wait to read this! We lived on a farm for a year before moving to Italy, our family farm. I grew up a farm kid, but didn’t really appreciate it all til watching it from an adult viewpoint. The work, the beauty, the sense of pride in your own eggs, veggies, etc. Loved it! I can’t wait to get back there! Don’t wait too long to have your farm, Becca!

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

      “Don’t wait too long to have your farm, Becca!” Ahhh hope not…!

  2. Nicole October 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Becca,
    This sounds like a great read! I’ll have to pick it up. I included the link to my cousin’s farm here! It’s a bit like your dream. She has chickens, goats, and a rather large garden. Samuel LOVES to go there to pick up eggs and pet the goats. I’m enjoying your blog, keep it up!

    Here’s Ben and Bobbi’s farm: http://www.farmdelux.com/blog.html

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

      Wow, they are for serious! I LOVE the American Gothic photo, haha. When are you guying to get your chickens and goats, Nicole??

  3. Alica October 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    I read this book this past year too! They really had a time of it in the harsh New York winter, if I remember correctly. Hopefully your farm will be a little bit farther south, to avoid all of that! :) The fresh eggs are great…the garden is too…and having our own meat in the freezer is a real bonus!

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

      You are the one real farmer that I know of who faithfully reads my blog. :-) I am so glad you’ve read it, too! I thought of you as I read it!

  4. Joy @ Caspara October 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    I read this book last year! And The Homemade Life (another good one) a couple years before! I think you and I have very similar tastes in books!! :-)

    I agree with your assessment of it — except that I was 110% sure I never wanted to go into cattle farming (which would be weird for a vegetarian anyway, huh?) after reading one chapter in there! You probably know which one I’m talking about. I’m sure you and Elliott have much stronger stomachs than I do, though!

    Can’t wait to read your reviews of the rest! :-D

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

      Ummm… yes. Did that chapter involve stringing a bull up to slaughter? And tourists coming by for a walk and stopping dead in their tracks? Enough to turn anyone’s stomach!

  5. Rebecca October 9, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    I’ll come and tend

  6. Rebecca October 9, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    I’ll come and tend the wildflower garden on your farm! (and maybe tend to the vegetables, too!) :)

  7. Rebecca Arthur October 9, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    That’s how I feel about Josh every time I see him making quesadillas!

    – Rebecca

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      Hahahahaha… and me when I see Elliott cooking eggs!

  8. Tesha October 9, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    I’m putting it on my wish list!! Thanks!

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      You and Bob would love it, Tesha! Although it’ll make him want to be a farmer even more. There are some surgeon-y things about farming, for sure. :-)

  9. Erin October 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    A Homemade Life was incredible. It will make you cry, so be prepared. Thanks for the suggestions for nursing reading!

    • Becca October 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      I loooove to read while nursing. I recently picked up “Loving the Little Years” while nursing, and that’s a quick and fun read when you can just get to it in snatches. You might enjoy it, Erin!

  10. Di October 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    I just got it on my kindle following your review. Looking forward to reading it!

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