The Dirty Life

I borrowed “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball from Kelsey, and I started reading with my teeth on edge, for a couple reasons. First, I can’t stand chicken-pimping, after grinding my teeth about this from the NYT – why do photographers insist on spotless clothing and improbable intimacy with chickens when presenting agricultural stories to the general public? I mean, the book is called ‘The Dirty Life’ after all – the author is an urbanite who falls in love with a farmer and moves to upstate NY, where they build a CSA.

I first learned about the book when Andy (who is a professional farmer, and has about as much tolerance for this sort of thing as I do) read a couple of over-the-top food prOn passages from early in the book at dinner. One of them involved jacklighting a deer (presumably on some kind of ag nuisance permit), preparing a rustic-yet-luscious meal of its liver, and consuming it in an intimate setting, with the scene fading as it enters the bedroom. But, by halfway into the book Kimball won me over, basically by the sheer volume of work that she and her husband (Mark) took on, and how they not only persevered but kept adding more and more aspects. Their CSA model is to provide customers a whole diet, which means providing grains, maple syrup, meat, dairy, eggs, etc, in addition to the usual vegetables – one of the primary limitations of common CSA practice (and most casual gardening) is that it doesn’t actually produce a lot of food on a percent-of-total-calories-required basis. At least by their own account, these guys are actually delivering the calories to feed a lot of people.

Farming is cool these days – everybody and their hipster cousin has chickens in the backyard, and not too long ago I witnessed a well-dressed woman walking goats on the green in Lexington MA. But doing it for real is a truly amazing amount of work – actually getting up every single morning at the crack of dawn, doing the milking, washing up, processing the milk, etc. Making maple syrup using buckets instead of a tube system means staggering through the snow with heavy containers of what’s basically water, processing the massive quantities of firewood needed to boil it off, and keeping a constant eye on the evaporator for days at a time. The Essex Farm folks are actually doing it all, and they’ve been doing it for near on ten years now. She also scores points by freely acknowledging how many people helped them out, and how lucky they were – but what really comes through to me is how hard they work.

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