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The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  12,876 Ratings  ·  1,792 Reviews
From a “graceful, luminous writer with an eye for detail,” this riveting memoir explores a year on a sustainable farm—and the real world epitome of Michael Pollan’s food philosophy.

"This book is the story of the two love affairs that interrupted the trajectory of my life: one with farming—that dirty, concupiscent art—and the other with a complicated and exasperating farmer
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Scribner (first published October 12th 2010)
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Neil Frandsen Heh. After 2 months in the SW ground floor Grade 1 Classroom of the 3 story brick schoolhouse, in Coleman, Alberta, this mountain-born Albertan moved…moreHeh. After 2 months in the SW ground floor Grade 1 Classroom of the 3 story brick schoolhouse, in Coleman, Alberta, this mountain-born Albertan moved to his family's three-quarter-section mixed farm, and finished Grade 1, and the years thru Grade 5, in a one-room Country schoolhouse yclept "Carnforth" (the building is no longer there, a victim of consolidation + the difficulties involved in finding a Teacher able to cope with outhouse walks, and with keeping the Teacherage + the Schoolhouse both warm in winter). I quickly learned the joys of walking along the rounded pole tops of corral fences, the challenges of moving liquid + solid wastes from milk cows to the manure pile, and how to s l o w l y, slowly, open the door into the chicken coop so 100 Leghorn hens would not panic-pile into a corner. Carrying water to the farmhouse, two 2.5 Imperial Gallon bucktfulls at a time, was a skill my frame had to grown up to! Milking cows by hand grows forearm muscles _still_ evident at age 78. And _I_ earned my Redneck on the top end of a hilling-hoe, working down the 20 rows of potatoes that my Fuen-Island (Denmark) raised Dad planted for wintertime storage in Grandma's Claresholm acreage's Root Cellar.
I do NOT miss getting up at 5:30AM to do the morning chores, including cow-milking, cream-separating, and feeding cows, pigs, horses, chickens, turkeys, dog, cats, cats, (26 Barn-, and 2 House- = we had the most nervous mice in the district!).
Riding a schoolbus, from Grade 1 thru 12, was easy to _do_ (cmon, sitting _is_ easy), and boring with some excitement during blizzards, or during spring melts-times.
Growing up on a mixed farm was excellent basic training for my 30 odd years working in the Oilpatch, as a Field Clerk, Crew Manager (hated _that_), Surveyor, Cat Push, Drill Push, Advance Man, and Permit Man. The different skills, plus the get-it-done attitude, melded well with the needs of the job(s) of a employee of a Geophysical Exploration Company.
I do miss the house cats close attentions, during cold winter nights = one or two furry hot pads are warming, altho the purring & claws do wake a fellow up...(less)

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Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Periodically, while reading "The Dirty Life", a book which I loved, I found myself thinking about "Eat, Pray, Love", a book I hated for its solipsism. The protagonists in each book are both writers, living the Yuppy life. Their paths diverged with Elizabeth Gilbert ending up as a famous author while Kristin Kimball, in an unbelievable life shift, becomes a farmer now helping to produce food for more than 200 families from a 600 acre farm in Essex, New York.

I'll return in a minute as to why I thi
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love the country, memoirs, farming, organics
So there I was, eating haute cuisine in a mobile home. He cooked for me as seduction, a courtship, so that I'd never again be impressed with a man who simply took me out to dinner. And I fell in love with him over a deer's liver.

Kristin Kimball lived, breathed and played in NYC until the fateful day she visited an organic farm with the intent of writing a magazine article. Dressed like a city girl she got drafted to help out until the farm's owner could spare time to talk to her. That was the be
Daniel Audet
Nov 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I was reading what I knew would be the last few sentences of this book and then forced to, reluctantly, put it down I took solace in the idea and fact that as I was reading here today Kristin and husband Mark and their team on the farm were actually out working, doing many of the things I read about in her book. So, maybe there will be a sequel, the next 7 or so years.
Somehow in a very deep way this effort from Kristin Kimball touched me, connected the dots in me and for me in ways I heret
Guy Choate
Kimball does a good job in using this book to remove any romantic notion of leaving city life for that of the farm life. Or maybe she enriches that notion for the person who truly wants to seek that farm life. Either way, she gives what I assume is a realistic view of the commitment that a farm is--the cow always has to be milked. I appreciated her straight-forwardness in that. If Kimball is anything, she seems honest, both about the farm and her relationship.

There are a lot of characters that a
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lyuda by: Suzanne
Shelves: memoirs

Question: Why is farming like a relationship?
Answer: Because you do not reap what you sow. That's a lie. You reap what you sow, hill, cultivate, fertilize, harvest, and store.
― Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love

I can count on my fingers the number of memoirs I've read. And the ones I did were either just plain not interesting or the writer came across as self-absorbed and narcissistic to the point of being off-putting. So, I started this book with a great deal of reser
Jan 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This non-fiction book begins as a young journalist from the city interviews a hot, young, single farmer and falls in love with him. They move to the country, decide to get married and start up their own CSA.

Question number one- I'm an agricultural journalist. WHY HASN'T THIS HAPPENED TO ME????

(Perhaps it is because I interview farmers all the time, but generally they aren't young, single or hot. Admittedly, some of the older farmers who like me often make a point of mentioning their single sons
THE DIRTY LIFE was an engaging, often funny, true-to-life tale of two young people who meet, fall in love and marry. Their quirky life with all its ups and downs was refreshingly interesting. Kristin was raised in an upper middle class family with parents who mimicked Ward and June Cleaver. She graduated from Harvard University and traveled the globe writing various articles. Mark, on the other hand, grew up with folks from the hippy generation. He was down-to-earth: a farmer, gardener, chef and ...more
Michelle Gragg
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did not think this would be a page turner, but it was for me! This is a story about the authors transformation from city girl to farmer. I loved her ability to describe her journey without making the reader feel like it should be theirs, or that it shouldn't. An excellent read!!!
Jane Stewart
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, farming
Educational about animals and work on a farm. It kept my interest.

This is not the kind of book I usually read, but someone gave it to me. I was surprised that it kept my interest. Only a couple times did I skim a paragraph or two.

College educated city girl Kristin leaves that life to be with Mark a farmer. The two of them work every day to exhaustion. Emergencies and work never end. Kristin initially went with Mark because she desired family and children and maybe felt like something was missing
Dec 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book fits into the whole foods, local grown, thinking ecologically about how we eat genre that is popular these days. Coming from Nebraska, it was nice to read a book that talks about farming as a nontrivial, nonmenial career. I suppose some might argue that Kimball glorifies it all a bit more than she should, but I'm not convinced. She talks about sleeping in a rat infested house and goes into pretty explicit detail about animal slaughter and birth. I tend to enjoy the whole local grown wh ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up at the library primarily because I had, had a fruit/vegetable for lunch that looked like a tomato, smelled a little bit like a tomato, but tasted nothing like the fresh from the garden tomato's that I remember eating as a child.

Kimball gives us an amazingly good look at her move from New York writer to Old Wave farmer. We also learn a little about local sourcing and Ms. Kimball's interior life as she makes the transition. Having grown up on something resembling a farm I und
Nov 15, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like - love this book. The ideas of running away from the big city to the country, to spend my days with real hard work instead of work that drives me crazy, and to enjoy the organic chaos of a farm instead of the mania that is modern suburbia all sound like the dreamy foundation of a book I'd love to lose myself in. I really wanted this book to be that escape for me - but the jumpiness of the writing was so prohibitive from achieving this escape and the focus of the book was ...more
Aug 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
The first two chapters about a NYC city girl falling in love and moving to a farm are endearing and funny. Kristin is a very good writer and she had really captured my attention at this point. But the book slowed down for me once the author got to her new life. Kristin was a travel writer prior to this farm gig and uses those skills to describe, in great detail, every experience, every piece of machinery and how it is used and every animal that is bought and slaughtered, etc.. All of this is int ...more
Apr 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, bookclub
I enjoyed this memoir and Ms. Kimball's story. It really was quite fascinating that she would give up everything she knew: her career, her home, her city all for love and a farm. During parts of the story I totally wanted to become a vegetable farmer. I quickly got over it and realized that a small garden with a few tomato plants would be all that I could ever manage though.
There was a lot of farming jargon that I did not understand. I was reading it on my Nook, so I did a half-hearted attempt t
Jun 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed The Dirty Life and read it in two days. I had a hard time understanding the inner transformation Kristin Kimball experienced, from city girl to farmer - or honestly, what she ever saw in her husband in the first place, since she paints him as an unsympathetic, crazy New Agish daydreamer - and that lack of depth would be enough to knock this book down another star, if she didn't do such a great job making me feel vividly both the difficulty and beauty of life on a farm (at le ...more
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Try as I might to dislike The Dirty Life, it’s difficult to fault such an eloquent, honest, and authentic narrative.

An impetuous young female writer, financially and emotionally destitute, longing for love, home and motherhood would have accepted almost anything making her life different. She did, surrendering to a willful man and his work.

In a depiction of her man as the wizened one, she ever the apprentice, The Dirty Life is Kristin Kimball’s account of her introduction to horse powered commu
May 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After the first few pages of this book, I was sure it was going to be a detailed description of various meals the author had eaten. I wouldn't have minded as she is a kickass writer. But the book is more than that. It's how a Harvard-educated New York city writer falls in love with a Swarthmore-educated no-nonsense farmer, and how they build a life together, creating an over-the-top organic farm in upstate New York. And, as the title suggests, it's a dirty life--full of pigs, pig entrails, cows ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this fascinating memoir, the author shares how she abandons heels and the bright lights of New York City to pursue a new relationship and a life of farming. I enjoyed the book because Kristin Kimball does not romanticize her newfound adventure; rather with a sprinkling of humor exposes a life of exhausting days and dirty fingernails, days compensated by colossal satisfaction and contentment. The book brims with stories of the challenges of working the fields with horses, raising livestock, gr ...more
Denise Oyler
May 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this book! It made me want to garden and farm and live an organic life. It made me think of my grandparents who were farmers and appreciate them more. The writing was beautiful! This quote really touched me: "Some people wish for world peace or an end to homelessness. I wish every woman could have as a lover at some point in her life a man who never smoked or drank too much or became jaded from kissing too many girls or looking at porn, someone with gracious muscles that come from ...more
Mar 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I value this book's stories about the trials of starting up a farm, of moving to a small town as an outsider, and of all the hard lessons that can only be learned through experience. I was annoyed by Mark's reckless "Aw shucks, everything always works out" attitude (taking huge gambles with no safety nets, ever), and by Kristin's persistent refusal to either embrace his approach or stand up to it - she always seemed resentful and ready to run. I kept wishing that their story could've been cozier ...more
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It was more than enjoyable and interesting; the writing is terrific, and the account of life as a new farmer is filled with both concrete details and meaningful insights.

Kristin Kimball is not just a farmer who has written a good book; she's a great writer who has a worthy subject.

This is soooo not The Pioneer Woman. It's more like Little House on the Prairie, for adults. Yes, it's that good.
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, nonfiction
Good audiobook. I liked it ... It fueled my secret desire to be a farmer (or at least have chickens or a goat)
This is an honest look at farming - the dirt, the heartbreak, the wonder, everything. While the author romanticizes farming to an extent, she is very direct about the difficulty of it as well. This book is not for the vegan or the weak stomached, as Kimball tells her readers about such things as animal butchering in a frank, detailed way. Her love for their farm and animals really shows through - the animals feel like secondary characters who are just moments away from speaking to her. I enjoyed ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, she's a terrific writer. And secondly, she has the two things needed to write a great memoir: an interesting life and honesty.

Kimball impulsively left her life in NYC to start a farm with the latest love of her life. The book is about being farmers - real farmers, with horses and horse-drawn tools, and a couple of cows that they milk by hand, and pigs and chickens and literally tons of vegetables. They work relentlessly throughout the growing and harvesting seasons, and the worklo
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book not long after finishing The Egg and I by Betty McDonald, another memoir about life on a farm (but set approximately 70 years ago and on the opposite side of the country). This book is the story of a woman who meets a farmer while doing some freelance writing, falls in love and gets engaged to him, and moves from New York City to live with him on a farm they are creating from scratch. She chronicles her life going from a city girl who cherished her silk blouses and heels to a wo ...more
Chris Witkowski
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book almost two years ago and decided to pick it up again in anticipation of the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library's planned trip to Essex Farm in May, 2014. I thoroughly enjoyed the book the second time around - in fact more so!

The book is the author's account of how she left her glamorous freelance writer's life to marry a diehard, back to the earth man , who has a dream of starting a CSA farm that will provide all the food needs for shareholders, as much as a per
Oct 23, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Every once in a while I'll need a break from my usual heady, absurdly stylish reading fare, and books like this are my version of a beach read. Last year, I picked up a little gem called Goat Song (by Brad Kessler), which explored in a tight, journal-style format the trials and rewards of escaping the harried metropolitan life for a pastoral fantasy on a dairy goat farm. That book had such a lyrical flow, with gut-wrenching moments of life and death and lovely prose, fascinating anecdotes on his ...more
Nov 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to decide if this is a love story about farming or the author's husband. Both came as a complete surprise to the author. Kristin writes with great humor and exquisite detail about how a "rustic" style farm operates, without chemicals and with reliance on horses and hand labor over tractors and engine-powered machines. The farm life descriptions are fascinating, I really enjoyed learning along with her and Mark as they tried, failed, and succeeded at the various tasks (e.g. planting, an ...more
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was given to me by my friend,Sarah. She just knew I would love this story and she was so completely correct. I could barely put this book down once I got started, which surprised me, because I didn't expect to love it *that* much. The Dirty Life fell right in line with my interest in sustainable agriculture and farming as it followed Kristin and her husband through the beginning of their romance to their ultimate destiny as husband and wife farmers in the Northeast.

Along the way she descri
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dirty life indeed: pig entrails, a pit bull attacking and mauling a beloved Jersey cow, animal slaughter described in vivid detail and a rat infested home are just a few examples of the life Kristin Kimball chooses on an impulse, then grows into slowly, deeply. She chucks her Manhattan lifestyle and job for the backbreaking work of a 500 acre, organic farm, not knowing quite what she is getting into but better off for that, as it turns out. I laughed out loud at her descriptions of her wedding ...more
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Kristin Kimball is a farmer and writer living in Northern New York. Prior to farmer, Kristin worked as a freelance writer, a writing teacher, and an assistant to a literary agent. A graduate of Harvard University, she has run Essex Farm with her husband since 2003.
More about Kristin Kimball...
“In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don't measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right.” 24 likes
“‎A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can't, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. Its blackmail, really.” 20 likes
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