Author, Kristin Kimball and husband Mark, owners of the Essex Farm provide a glimpse into their lives and how they came to their unique calling. During The Wild Center’s first-ever remote “barncast”, Kristin read excerpts from her book, The Dirty Life.
At the end of the video Mark and Kristin answer some questions from the viewers. This webcast originally aired 9/15/11 directly from their barn in Essex, New York, with customary hay and animals in attendance.
Essex Farm is a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, which is something Mark Kimball describes as something like a subscription, sometimes paying a farmer in advance or sometimes monthly for a supply of food, usually vegetables. Essex Farm is unique in that it offers a wider variety of food. Essex Farm offers vegetables, as well as grains, beans, dairy, meat, eggs, and berries. They would like to offer more fruit in the future. “We wanted to have a farm that offered all the food we wanted to eat, and we figured that was something our members would be interested in” (Mark Kimball). 170 members belong to the Essex Farm CSA as of this video. It is $6,000/yr for a couple to join, and each child is $100/yr of age/yr (ie a 6 yr. old=$600 for one year).
Transformation to Farmer
Kristin Kimball reads two excerpts from her book. The first describes her initial meeting with her future husband Mark. At the time she was a journalist preparing to write an article about the growing popularity of local and organic food, and she met Mark to interview him because he was a farmer who specialized in those areas. That day and the next inexperienced-vegetarian-city-girl Kristin helped out on the farm. She hoed rocks and cooked her own freshly picked ingredients for lunch and even helped to butcher a pig, and then she ate sausage! Vegetarian no more. Those days gave her a taste of farm life, and she liked it.
“It all seemed so much simpler than I’d imagined. Dirt + Water + Sun + Sweat = Food. No factories required, not a lot of machinery, no poisons or chemical fertilizers. How is it possible that this abundance had always existed and I had not known it?” (Kristin Kimball, A Dirty Life)
The second excerpt Kristin reads from her book describes a horse related mishap that occurs during the first year the Kimballs are getting established at Essex Farm. She and Mark are putting compost on one of the fields and two drafts horses are pulling the contraption that deposits the compost in the ground. They load it by hand for a while, but it gets late and they get tired, so they decide to use the tractor to put the final load of compost in the horse drawn machine.
The horses spook at the sound and proximity of the tractor and take off across the fields and eventually into the road. Dramatic thoughts and worse-case scenarios go through Kristin’s head as she runs after them, and Mark takes off on a bike leaving her behind. Thankfully Mark catches up and manages to slowly guide the horses to the edge of the road where they stop and their training kicks in; the horses and no one else is hurt.
Questions at the end of the video ask about the difficulties of running a CSA farm. Mark explains that if there is some type of crop failure for any reason that is significant enough to affect the amount of food that they and their customers eat, then the Kimballs will work with another producer who uses similar techniques and buy crops to make up for Essex Farm’s lack. They also prepare ahead of time and plant double the amount of crops needed when they know weather conditions will affect the amount produced.
So far there hasn’t been a year where there wasn’t enough to eat (Kristin Kimball). Thinking about the people who are depending on them to get food week to week helps them get through the hard times when they do occur (Kristin Kimball). Also, personally they both like to cook and eat, which is another reminder to keep working despite difficulties (Mark Kimball).
Mark Kimball says that they farm because it’s difficult. Humans have been working to make things easier forever. He says, “I wouldn’t say things have gotten too easy, but for me I think the excitement is often just in the challenge itself. I think they [challenges] bring out the most in humanity.”
“I think once anyone has farmed, it’s sort of a special universal language on some level, and even if it’s a small vegetable plot or a 10-thousand acre corn plot that, especially in a city setting, it’s almost like finding somebody from your home town.” (Mark Kimball)
“It’s a constant struggle to balance family time, farming time, and the rest of life, whatever that might be” (Kristin Kimball). But for Kristin it’s worth it. Also it’s apparently an inspiration. There will be a sequel to The Dirty Life sometime in the future. Right now it’s just an untitled work in progress. Though Mark (jokingly?) wants it to be called The Dirty Wife.
- The Dirty Life, By Kristin Kimball (independent.co.uk)
- Horse Power at Essex Farm (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- End of the Year at Essex Farm (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Moving the Cows at Essex Farm (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Essex Farm Updates (essexonlakechamplain.com)