Book Review: The Dirty Life

I am not ashamed to admit that I consider Audio Books just as good as reading an actual book, especially when a person is so busy (or tired) s/he cannot sit still for even 15 minutes (without falling asleep). So I often listen to audio books to keep my sanity while driving, doing the dishes, unpacking a ba-jillion boxes… Recently I “picked up” The Dirty Life after a search for farmy books on

The author, Kristin Kimball, writes of her decision to leave a very normal, urban life in New York City for a completely foreign existence on a 500+ acre farm in Upstate New York; all in the name of love. The retelling of her journey was touching, infuriating, heartwarming, heart-wrenching and absolutely perfect for me right now. While I occasionally felt I identified more with her sometimes-militant off-the-grid farmer husband, Mark, than I did with her, I found her perspective to be extremely eye-opening as I journey to take my own steps toward an agrarian life. She conversationally touched on basic things like chicken breeds, as well as complex issues like farm management, customer procurement, and marketing.

It was an exciting story full of every aspect of farm life, even the activities inside the farm house. She wrote about the stress of leaving a life of comfort and convenience for one of near total isolation. Mark Kimball (he took her last name when they were married) insists on farming purity – they eat a diet consisting of farm-grown/foraged foods and grown their own hay for their livestock. And they utilize horse-power in all but extreme situations, reducing their off-farm inputs to next to nothing. And for all their devotion and hard work, they now own an 80 acre parcel amidst a 600-acre sustainable farm, providing a full-diet CSA for more than 100 people. This story was inspiring, encouraging, and practical. I absolutely loved it.

The Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball

Book Review: Making Your Small Farm Profitable

I have had this book on the shelf for almost a year, and finally opened it earlier this month. I quickly realized it is an essential book for anyone planning to own a profitable small farm or market garden.

The author, Ron Macher, is publisher of Small Farm Today, “the original how-to magazine of alternative and traditional crops and livestock, direct marketing, and rural living. His writing is practical and the information relevant, at any stage of farm planning.” It gave me plenty to consider, even years before owning or leasing farm land.

Macher takes the reader through some basic planning steps, beginning with evaluating your skills and resources. A significant portion of the book, he shares some very useful sustainable farming tips, including the use of crop rotation and livestock to increase soil fertility. He also shares some interesting recommendations for planning and marketing yourself and your products. The final chapters of the book deal specifically with farm management considerations.

I like the emphasis Macher places on not only environmental sustainability, but on economic sustainability as well. It is critical, in my opinion, that our small farms support our families, and our local communities, but that they leave something healthy and growing for the next generation. Something I have been worrying about lately is the tendency for “farm kids” to leave the farm after college and never return. We need educated, passionate people working our land, not just me and my generation, but our children as well. How can I encourage that level of commitment in my children? For one thing, I can work tirelessly to make sure the farm and farming are productive and enjoyable. I want to make sure they never feel a sense of useless drudgery or monotony but rather I want them to hold a true understanding of what is required to bring healthful, flavorful food out of the earth and onto our dinner table. Here’s a link to a talk Joel Salatin gave on this very subject. It’s on my must-have list:

Getting Your Hands Dirty:
How to Teach Your Children to Love Work
Joel Salatin

So what is a small farm? From the Making Your Small Farm Profitable:

The confusion between small farms, family farms, and sustainable agriculture is somewhat understandable, because all three share similar characteristics.

  •  A small farm is any farm that comprises 179 acres or less, or that grosses $50,000 or less per year. Small farms are usually family farms but may or may not be sustainable.
  • A family farm is any size farm – small, medium, or large – in which family members supply the majority of needed labor. A family farm is not necessarily sustainable.
  • Sustainable agriculture is an economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable system of agriculture that may be used on any size farm.

Where do you fit in? Where would you like to?

Ready to read the book? (Affiliate Link)

Making Your Small Farm Profitable
Ron Macher