Harvard educated Kristin Kimball's life as a Manhattan journalist was glamorously bohemian but somehow oddly lacking. Fate stepped in when she interviewed a charismatic young farmer in upstate New York (who immediately put her to work slaughtering pigs and hoeing) and it quickly dawned on her that her life was about to change and soon enough she swapped her sophisticated but stressful lifestyle for a physically challenging but emotionally rich existence running a co-operative farm in upstate New York with her interview subject (who ultimately became her husband).
The Dirty Life (Scribner) is Ms. Kimball's version of these events. Her writing is very warm, sweet natured and refreshingly unironic. At times, her narrative has a kind of early American quality (it reminded me of the film Drums Along the Mohawk which begins with an urbane society woman leaving Albany to settle into the Revolutionary hornets nest in Central New York).
At present, she and her husband Mark run Essex Farm near Lake Champlain where they provide members of the farm a "whole diet" approach to organic farming where not only vegetables are provided (over 50 kinds) but meat, milk, poultry, honey, grains, lard and so on (again, all organic). In between her "dirty life," Ms. Kimball was gracious enough to speak with us about her life, her work and what she misses about Manhattan.
M & L: When you decided to raise the bar on the CSA model by providing a "whole diet" approach to producing for the community was there a precedent that your farm was following? What made you think this approach would work?
KK: "As far as we know, we were the first. It's been fun to watch some of the farmers who have worked here go on to start their own farms, using a similar model. A lot of them are draft horse powered, too. We really didn't know if it would work or not, especially in our area, which is not exactly the most progressive place in the world. We chose this model because we both wanted to produce the food we liked to eat. So it was hedonism, really. And once you eat as well as a farmer eats, you can never go back."
M & L: How did you come up with the idea for the title?
KK: "As a farmer, you become intimate with all the things regular civilians avoid touching: shit, dirt, blood, sweat, guts, grease. But farming is also a sensual, romantic, physical, sexy life. So with the title, I tried to gesture at both those ideas. "
M & L: Your book cover is very striking; how did you decide to use this image?
KK: "Scribner sent a fabulous photographer, Deborah Feingold, to take the cover picture. I think she got it just right: a beautiful image, but unpolished. It says this is absolutely not a gentleman's farm, and that's the truth."
M & L: Is there something that your farm wants to grow or cultivate that you haven't had the time or chance to attempt?
KK: "Sheep! Also, a real orchard, with apples, pears, sour cherries. It'd be nice to have a cider house. We would like a cheese cave, and maybe a bread oven. I'd also like to get better at the things we do already."
M & L: Do you ever miss anything about life in Manhattan?
KK: "Fast-talking people. The way Manhattanites curse: eloquently, and without guilt. The sound of many different languages. Yelling TAXI. Bars, movie theaters, ethnic food. Most of all, my sister and my friends."
M & L: If you hadn't met your husband what do you think you would be doing now?
"KK: "Sheesh. Who knows. Probably still in the city, writing content for cash...."