While acres and acres of farmable land lie fallow..

Many of you know we moved to Pennsylvania for Tripp’s job. We chose Bucks County because it is in the middle of the two offices at which he will be working over the course of the next few years. As anyone who as been here will tell you, Bucks County, PA is beautiful. Rolling hills, 150+ year old farmhouses on literally every road, and I don’t know how many miles of the Delaware river. However, due to its proximity to Philadelphia (45 mins) and New York City (less than 2 hours) it is expensive! We were lucky to find a home to rent because even just a few acres in the area will cost you over a million dollars. That’s right. Even though the place is plum covered up with historic and not-so-historic farms, estates, and homes on any number of acres, if you don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter subdivision, you’re gonna have to spend some serious dough. (Don’t misunderstand me, typical suburban homes are expensive too).

New Hope, PA
photo credit: tripadvisor.com

I say all this in an attempt to illustrate how completely and totally out of place I feel here (as a wanna-be farmer). I love the quaint villages sprinkled across the countryside, and the Pennsylvania Dutch barns are certainly lovely, but to see all this land just sitting here… “Lawns should be turned into food production places…all that land going to waste…around rural residential estates just to provide a place for people to drive lawn more tractors around.” (Joel Salatin, You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise) I was very used to seeing lawn maintenance trucks and “lawn mower men” in my old neighborhood in Athens, but I saw one today, on a quiet country road, miles and miles from town. Why did they move out the country if they’re not even going to mow their own lawn??! Then it dawned on me – Bucks County may be rural, but it is by no means country. I keep thinking I’m going to see chicken houses in every backyard, but I’ve only found a handful so far. The vast majority of folks in this area are not living here to live off the land; they’re living on the land.

One of the amazing things about the book I reviewed yesterday, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, was how Essex Farm got started. Mark and Kristin had a dream to create a full-diet CSA and for 9 months they searched for farmable land. A friend of a friend heard they were looking and offered them 500 acres in Essex, NY. The owner had been holding on to the land for years, hoping to use it recreationally, but his busy job as an attorney in NYC made it impossible for him to spend any time there. So, he called them up and said they could farm it, however they wanted to, for free. Yes, for free. A few years later they were able to purchase 80 acres and now reside there permanently. What a great deal, right? Joel Salatin mentions a similar scenario in his book as well; a former intern of his at Polyface did exactly the same thing. There are programs out there to link wanna-be farmers with landowners or farmers that want to retire but have no children or whose children do not want to become farmers. Check with your county extension agent, too, s/he is sure to have an idea of who is looking to sell/lease/lend their land.

While I am pretty sure Bucks County, PA is out of reach for my family’s long-term farm dreams, I am still hopeful that we will find what we’re looking for someday – we just have to know where to look, and let people know we’re looking!

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 Audible.com.

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