When I was little, I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. Not the TV show, but the books. Actually, my favorite was Little House in the Big Woods. Whenever my parents would drag me up to northern Wisconsin for fishing excursions, I would pretend that we were tracking up to our own cabin in the north woods, where Pa would hunt for our dinner and tell wild stories about panthers in the trees, and Ma would wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, with everyone resting on Sunday and maybe a square dance party around Christmas. I had completely overidolized the notion of self-sufficiency and farming from the safety of my clean suburban home.
As an adult, I still have a somewhat romantic view of farming – doesn’t everyone? Well, maybe not farmers. Which is why Kristin Kimball’s book The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love is an excellent read for bursting that bubble. Long story short, Kristin lives in New York as a writer, but falls in love with an idealistic organic farmer. She quickly finds herself in upstate New York dilapidated farm, milking cows at 4 am, trekking through mud while plowing the fields (using horses the old-fashioned way), and generally being, well, dirty. Any thoughts I have of, hey, let’s raise some chickens in the backyard!, came crashing down.
Not that her life seems bad. On the contrary, I think if most people had the opportunity, they could value from such an experience. But let’s face it, the vast majority of us know nothing about where our food comes from, let alone the aggressive workload that it takes to run an organic farm. If anything, this book should give you an appreciation for the higher cost of organic food. Or, after reading about slaughtering chickens and pigs, a borderline vegetarian. (Ironically, Kimball STOPS being a vegetarian after slaughtering and eating organic, grassfed animals).
What I love most of this book is Kimball’s husband, Mark, and his undying quest for local, organic, sustainable living. He talks about building houses with no nails and on living solely on what he can raise and grow. He wears a ridiculously huge sunhat, and takes farming tips from the Amish. I can see why the author fell in love with him. Sometimes, we crazy women fall in love not with a man, but with his principles. And that’s really what The Dirty Life is all about: one city gal, one old-fashioned farmer, and a whole lot of chickens.