The other day, rummaging for something in the depths of my desk, I found an eight-year-old to-do list scribbled on the back of a receipt: "Reheel black shoes. Pick up dry cleaning. Call super re: sink. Meet P for drinks." For a minute, I sat there remembering what it was like to be a single woman in Manhattan. Now my to-do list starts with milking eight cows at dawn and ends with closing the laying hens in their coop at dusk. The dry-cleanables wore out a long time ago, and I wear heels so infrequently I've forgotten how to walk in them.
The change I made, from city person to farmer, was abrupt and unforeseen. I'd never once looked at my windowsill planter full of half-dead herbs and thought, "Wow, wish I could grow half an acre of those." I was teaching and writing for travel guidebooks and magazines, and I liked my city life and its freedoms. Then in 2002, just after I rounded 30, I went to Pennsylvania to interview a farmer for a story about the local food movement. Mark was tall and talkative, and his farm produced an array of exceptionally good produce. I thought he was an intriguing subject to write about. And—for some reason I'll never understand—he took one look at me, in my city clothes and inappropriate shoes, and decided I'd make him a good farm wife.
Against all odds, I think I have. I fell deeply for him, and for farming. I found I loved the satisfaction of physical work, and the enormous generosity of sun, soil, and water. I became addicted to the food. Within a few months I left the city, and we started a new farm together in northeastern New York. At the end of the first growing season, we got married in the loft of our shabby red barn. We've farmed here for seven years now, and have become parents to two little girls. We raise almost everything we need for a year-round diet, including 50 kinds of vegetables, herbs, grains, and fruits, plus pigs, chickens, and dairy and beef cattle. We use no pesticides or herbicides, and most of the work is done with draft horses instead of tractors. Our farm feeds 130 people, who come each week to pick up their share of our produce, flours, milk, meats, and eggs.
Farming asks a lot of a person, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It keeps you close to the dirt and humble. I've gained many skills on the farm that I couldn't have imagined needing in the city, from plucking chickens to castrating calves. But the best lesson farming has taught me is the deep pleasure of commitment—to Mark, to our farm, to a small town.
Kristin Kimball's book
The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (Scribner) is out this month.
Next: See photos from Kristen's first year on the farm