In 2002, at age 31, Harvard grad Kristin Kimball was living in Manhattan, working as a freelance writer. Gardening hadn’t ever been part of her skillset. But in pursuit of an interview with Mark Guenther, whom she pegged at the time as “a wingnut farmer,” Kimball took up his challenge first to hoe broccoli and then to help slaughter a hog. She was surprised how deeply the hands-on work appealed to her, soon concluding that “Humans are hard-wired to be agrarians.” She also fell quickly in love with the “wingnut,” who had grown up in New Paltz, the son of environmental educator Ann Guenther and “Farmer Dan” Guenther, co-founder of several local CSAs including Phillies Bridge Farm in Gardiner, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and Brook Farm in New Paltz.
Kimball left city life behind and, with her new husband (who adopted her surname), took on the immense job of starting and running a 500-acre CSA near Lake Champlain, known as Essex Farm. It currently comprises 1,100 acres and is managed with horsedrawn farm machinery rather than tractors, using no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. The goal was to supply its 150 members year-round (up to 200 now) with ingredients for three organic meals a day – not just vegetables, salad greens, herbs and a few fruits, but also grains, flour, beans, eggs, meat, dairy, honey, maple syrup, cut flowers, even soap. Kimball calls it “the world’s first full-diet CSA, as far as we know.”
The work was ceaseless, backbreaking and deeply rewarding, as Kimball recorded in her 2010 memoir of Essex Farm’s first year, The Dirty Life. Since then, the couple have had two daughters, raising the stakes of succeeding at their risky endeavor. A “biblically bad” year of intense financial pressure, spurred by consistently adverse weather and Mark suffering a leg injury, forced the couple to reevaluate their marriage along with their commitment to the project, particularly with regard to the hardship it placed on their small children.
Kimball’s new book chronicling that stressful period, Good Husbandry, will be published by Scribner on October 15. Her book tour brings her to Oblong Books in Rhinebeck for a reading and signing at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22. Admission is free, but attendees are asked to RSVP at www.oblongbooks.com/event/farmer-author-kristin-kimball-good-husbandry-memoir.
Good Husbandry reading with Kristin Kimball, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 6 p.m., Free, Oblong Books & Music, 6422 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck, (845) 876-0500, www.oblongbooks.com