“I had never in my life been so dirty” – The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

Kristin Kimball’s life could not really have been more Sex and the City. She was a Harvard-educated, freelance writer living in New York. She was randomly dating and beginning to yearn for a family. In seven years she had never used her oven and she used her fridge to store the Manhattan phone book.

Then she went to interview Mark, an organic farmer. She was so taken with him that, although she’d been a vegetarian for 13 years and was wearing a new, white agnès b blouse, she helped him slaughter a pig and by the next morning was eating sausages. They began a relationship and within months Mark had asked her to give up her city life to marry him and run a farm.

The Dirty Life is a memoir of the couple’s first year of farming in the Adirondacks and the run-up to their wedding. It might sound wonderful to give up the city for an idyllic life in the country with a gorgeous man but this man wanted to farm with horses instead of tractors and ideally without electricity.

Kimball discovered that she’d fallen for a hippie who had spent one year in college in wintery Pennsylvania barefoot and who had an aversion to deodorant. He also kept a huge ball of his used dental floss in case it came in handy for mending clothes.

Despite this Kimball had fallen in love with her new lifestyle as well and she writes about the farming year in seductive prose. The memoir is divided into seasons and she describes how they brought the derelict farm back to life and the problems and adventures they encountered. They started off with one cow and a few hens but gradually raised enough livestock and crops to provide a full organic diet for a few hundred community members.

As a former travel writer, Kimball creates a great portrait of the farm, the work they have to do to get it going and the community around them in the ‘North Country’. Her descriptions of the meals they create with the farm’s produce are mouth-watering although I’d pass at the bull’s testicles. Despite the exhausting work and the dirt – “I had never in my life been so dirty” – her passion for her new life and belief that she is in the right place come across.

The book’s tagline is “A story of farming the land and falling in love” and the year ends with the couple’s wedding, which took place in the barn. This is a chaotic “we have 300 guests coming and have vegetables to harvest and the venue is still splattered in pigeon shit” episode. Kimball is refreshingly honest about her doubts before marriage and her musings on her relationship aren’t over-indulgent or chick-litish.

Any Cop?: A captivating memoir which makes for very escapist reading – from the comfort of your sofa. You have to remind yourself that the woman gets up before dawn to do two hours of chores before milking the cow.

Anna Foden

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