Anyone whose life path diverges so abruptly – from being childless to becoming a parent, say, or from being penniless to winning the lottery – understands this sudden shift in focus. The interesting aspect about Kimball’s story is that when this Harvard grad went, as a journalist in search of a good story, to a farm in Pennsylvania, she had no intention of changing her life – didn’t know that she was buying a lottery ticket that would land her on 500 acres with a husband, two kids and a barn full of cows, chickens and pigs.
In a story for O: The Oprah Magazine last year, Kristin writes of her transition, “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.’” Now into their eighth year of farming, Kimball and her husband Mark (who hails from New Paltz and is the son of Ann and Dan Guenther) run a successful, sustainable Community-Supported Agriculture operation that feeds 130 people who come to Essex Farm each week to retrieve their shares of produce, flowers, milk, meats and eggs. Without the use of pesticides or herbicides, they grow 50 kinds of vegetables, herbs, grains and fruits, and they raise pigs, chickens and cattle, both dairy and beef: practically everything that a family needs year-round. They also produce lard and maple syrup. And they’ve done it all the old-fashioned way, using horsedrawn plows and equipment.
The Dirty Life, now out in paperback, chronicles the trials and tribulations of the couple’s grand agricultural experiment in returning to the soil for sustenance. It also tells a love story: one of commitment to each other and to the community that surrounds them. She describes falling in love with the satisfaction of physical work and the enormous generosity of sun, soil and water. “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 and Mark will speak this Monday, October 17 at 7 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium on the SUNY-New Paltz campus. Sponsored by the SUNY-New Paltz Environmental Task Force, the Department of English, the Department of Sociology and the Environmental Studies Program, with the support of the Provost’s Office and Campus Auxiliary Services, the event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (845) 257-3447.