Monday, October 21, 2019

Good Husbandry by Kristin Kimball

I was eager to revisit Kristin Kimball's life on her farm after reading her first memoir, The Dirty Life way back before I started this blog. I absolutely fell in love with her story about making the big leap from living in New York City as a writer, to owning a 500 acre farm near Lake Champlain, New York with her soon to be husband, Mark. How does one change their life so drastically? Well, falling in love had something to do with it. That, and recognizing what makes your heart happy, even through all of the ups and downs that farm life delivers. 

Now, 8 years later, Kristin is back with a follow up. Hey, guess what? Farming is still incredibly difficult work. Heck, i live in Iowa; farms are everywhere. My partner's cousins are all farmers. You can drive just a few miles out of town and yep, there's a farm. Even children who grow up in our few bigger cities know what a cow looks like; know what corn and soybeans look like from very early on. They're all around us. And yet, so many of us have no inkling just how damn hard it is, every day, to operate a farm. It truly does take every bit of you, wring you out, then keep you coming back for more. Kristin's second memoir illustrates that so well, I actually felt exhausted reading her experiences on her farm. 

Kristin and Mark are happily married, and have a daughter, Jane. Kristin is pregnant with their second child, and it's springtime on the farm. That means up and at 'em early, working all day out in the fields planting crops and vegetables, milking cows, and all the endless daily chores required to keep a farm operating. There are no days off; no candlelight dinners, no relaxing on the deck with a cocktail. It's backbreaking work, smelling like stink and sweat, tracking muck into the house. Taking a shower, falling into bed, only to get up the next day and do it all again. Kristin and Mark decided to run their farm and raise food for a large group of people, year round. Meat, vegetables, dairy; the whole nine yards. They even produce their own maple syrup. The farm has grown bit by bit, but they still do the majority of the field work with horses. They've got a crew of young farmers, eager to dig in, learn about farming, and gain experience. They raise all the food they eat. Kristin says there's something deeply satisfying about eating food that you grew, picked, and harvested; you know exactly where it came from, how long it took to grow, and who grew it. It makes the taste incredible.

 Mark is some kind of farming God; his boundless joy at doing what he absolutely loves every day shines brightly. This is his life's work, and he wholeheartedly embraces all of it. And he's a whiz at organizing, planning, and problem solving. Kristin continues to work incredibly hard, doing what needs to be done, all with a big belly making it a bit tough. After the birth of their second daughter, however, times get tough. Tons of rain put off planting crops, and endanger their ability to meet food commitments. Worn out with a toddler and an infant, feeling trapped in her gloomy farmhouse, cracks appear in her marriage. Which comes first? The family or the farm? Do they take the next leap, invest lots of money they don't have, and grow the farm, or stay small? How can they continue to sustain their way of life, and pay all the bills? How can Kristin be a mom, and continue to work the farm with Mark? What kind of a life have they decided for their daughters? Is it even fair? 

I'm so happy Kristin wrote this second memoir. I've always wondered about her life and the farm after all these years, and was so happy to see this memoir published. Her examination of a marriage seven years in, the difficulties, miscommunication (or none at all), the rearranging of priorities, and the hard look at "is this the life I really want?" are sobering, but so necessary. 

I affectionately call my partner "nature boy". He's someone who has always had a deep love of nature and animals, and spent most of his childhood working on his Uncle's farm, doing all the unpleasant stuff you could have a kid do. He learned to drive tractors, fix equipment, take care of animals, and all sorts of stuff--all from a very early age. He can figure out how to fix most anything, and will turn over problems in his mind endlessly until he figures out a solution. I'll confess, I'm not exactly a city girl, but I'm not a wholehearted country girl, either. Animals make me a bit nervous, I'm terrified to drive a tractor, and I am not one to cheerfully field dress a deer. And yet, these are things I will learn to do, at this middle age stage of my life, as our lives change towards a more rural life. There is a part of me that is happiest being outside, in the quiet, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze. It is peaceful. I only ask that I have indoor plumbing somewhere nearby. I'm a bit nervous about being up to the task of keeping up with my energetic man, learning so many new things and being a helpmate. It's going to require bravery on my part, and patience on his. 

So reading Kristin's memoir gave me a few moments of "holy heck!". She's such a good writer; I could feel the physicality of all that hard work, the frustration of being so darn tired, and the growing unhappiness with the state of her home. You can taste the food, smell the fresh air, feel the nip of those cold, cold mornings, and the swish-swish of the cows being milked. I gulped this memoir down in one day. 

Rating: 5/6 for an honest portrayal of a marriage, a farm, and what it takes to keep it all going. Teamwork is the dreamwork to this hardworking couple, and the food they produce year round. I would watch a reality show about this farm, this life, in a second! It's not necessary to read her first memoir before reading Good Husbandry, but I would recommend it, to get the full, evolving story. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

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