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Book Review: The Dirty Life
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Business Insights for Women
PNC INSIGHTS Magazine Spring/Summer 2014 Issue
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Author Kristin Kimball details her road from Manhattan writer to sustainable farmer.

When New York writer Kristin Kimball travelled to rural Pennsylvania to research an article about organic farming, she couldn't have guessed where that journey would really take her. On that trip she met her future husband, Mark, a young, first-generation farmer with a near-obsessive devotion to organic and sustainable agricultural. Though opposites in many ways, the pair fell in love, and Mark convinced Kristin to leave her life in Manhattan for an abandoned 500-acre farm in upstate New York.

What makes The Dirty Life stand out is Kimball's skill as a writer and Mark's earnest, unwavering conviction that what they're doing is "something that matters." Kimball describes daunting tasks with aplomb: camping out in unheated houses, working behind a horse-driven plow (the Kimballs largely eschew tractors) and, to avoid waste, warming to the culinary delicacies of heart, blood pudding and prairie oysters. She sings the praises of eggs plucked from the coop, venison liver from a fresh kill and icy maple sap straight from the bucket. She also lyrically illustrates the almost laughable odds their endeavor faces: "Farmers toil. Nature laughs. Farmers weep," she writes. "There's your history of agriculture in a nutshell."

The Kimballs' business model is community-supported agriculture (CSA), in which individuals purchase shares in a farm's production prior to the growing season. This gives small farmers like the Kimballs the necessary capital to grow their product rather than having to wait until after the harvest to be paid. Unlike most CSAs, however, which typically supply members only during the primary growing season, the Kimballs' Essex Farm strives to provide a complete, year-round diet of meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains, flours and beans to its members.

What Kimball brings to the table is not only a gripping tale of beating the odds to achieve one's dreams, but an inspirational roadmap for entrepreneurs of every stripe. To make their scant capital last, she and her husband reduce, reuse and recycle just about everything, and work with backbreaking diligence to push their enterprise forward despite the inevitable, unforeseeable setbacks that crop up along the way.



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