ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Kristin Kimball's first book, "The Dirty Life," told the story of how she left a publishing career in New York City to start a farm.
KRISTIN KIMBALL: I had no idea you could be dirty in so many different ways. There's dirt, there's blood, there's sweat, there's - your own sweat, the sweat of animals.
SHAPIRO: "The Dirty Life" became a surprise bestseller. 10 years later, Kimball is once again writing about farming. Her new book, "Good Husbandry," tells how farming has continued to shape her marriage and her life into middle age. Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio reports.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When I turn up at Kristin and Mark Kimball's farmhouse, it smells rich and earthy - potato and leek soup bubbling warm on the stove. There's a big block of their homemade cheese on the battered table.
K KIMBALL: I just wish that everybody had the experience of getting their hands in the dirt and seeing what a miracle it is to pull food out of it and then to cook it and eat it with other people.
MANN: Kristen Kimball is a small woman with dark, shoulder-length hair, now in her 40s. It's late autumn as we set out into the fields. She and Mark are what you might call evangelists for the small farm, local food movement.
MARK KIMBALL: My pitch is always, can I convince you to become a farmer - everyone I meet.
MANN: He's a tall, rangy guy in a big straw hat who grins with excitement when he talks about milk yields and hogs.
(SOUNDBITES OF HOGS GRUNTING)
M KIMBALL: Hi, guys.
MANN: Their land, Essex Farms, sprawls over 1,600 acres of forest and meadow in New York's Adirondack foothills. Even this late in the season, there are bright purple cabbages in neat rows and a few last berries to be plucked.
K KIMBALL: And then there's rhubarb in here. And that's all asparagus.
MANN: Sun sweeps over a distant flock of sheep, but the wind is sharp. You can feel winter. Most large farms these days focus on one or two big cash crops. The Kimballs raise everything from beets to chickens. In this kind of community supported agriculture, food is sold directly to customers - in the case of the Kimballs, feeding hundreds of families. In theory, this business model is more sustainable. It means more money in their pockets. But this life is still precarious.
K KIMBALL: It started off disastrously wet and cold in the spring. The summer and the fall were pretty good for us. And our harvests were some of our best harvests that we've had.
MANN: They supplement their income with speaking fees and revenue from Kristin's books. After 15 years at the center of the small farm renaissance, the Kimballs describe themselves as one part romantic, two part realist.
K KIMBALL: Mark and I came into agriculture at a time when things felt very, very hopeful. You know, we were at this wave of young farmers who were starting new farms, many of us first generation. But it's also the old story of agriculture, which is that we're working in a business that is subject to the chaos of weather, to the vicissitudes of market. So yes, it's rich, it's beautiful, and it's also really, really hard.
MANN: This is part of the story her book, "Good Husbandry," tells - the feel of late autumn days in the fields, the joy of raising their two daughters on the farm, but also the strain of a struggling small business and the pressure on a marriage. They say they've seen a lot of farms like theirs fail since Kristin's first book came out.
M KIMBALL: They go out of business because of burnout and divorce.
K KIMBALL: I think any farm family would recognize the farm is the thing that holds you together as a family because it's the project that you work on together with passion and energy. And it's also the thing that can wear you down as a family because the work is unrelenting, and the financial pressure can really erode the family, too.
M KIMBALL: When you step back a little bit, the fact that we're still here around this table is pretty close to a miracle.
MANN: They're clearly proud of the fact that their farm is still in business. And they say they're still having fun making a life together, working their land as winter sets in.
K KIMBALL: So this is soy that'll need to be harvested probably after the ground freezes. And that will go for feed for our pigs and chickens.
MANN: Kristin says even after all these years, she's a little startled this turned out to be her story, but also happy. The tradeoff, she says, had been worth it.
Brian Mann, NPR News, Essex, N.Y.
(SOUNDBITE OF OWEN PALLETT SONG, "DON'T STOP")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.