I finally read “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball. It is a true story about a writer from New York city falling in love with farming and a farmer, and moving rurally to start a really radical organic farm. In her first year of farming she does more than most new farmers I know do in their first 10 years. She slaughters and butchers cows, pigs, and chickens, drives a draft horse team, decides to get engaged to the [pretty nutso] farmer Mark after only a few months, leaves her steady paying writing job in the city, and attempts (with partner Mark) to grow EVERYTHING their customers will need to eat.
I wanted to read this book because the farm that Kristin and Mark started has, what they call, a “full diet CSA”. Instead of just offering vegetables like most CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), they offer EVERYTHING they could possibly grow to nourish their members. Sure, the members probably sneak into the grocery store for a few things (namely coffee), but they offer flours, beans, pork, beef, chicken, maple syrup, honey, vegetables, fruits, and more, all their members can eat. I think the price started at $2000 per year for an adult, and is now (10 years later) $3300. That’s $63 dollars a week or $9 a day to eat the most top-end delicious organic, ecologically raised food every day. Not bad. She writes,
“At the price we’re charging most people in our community couldn’t afford to use our food as a supplement to their usual grocery store haul. They’d have to give up, like I had, that familiar and comforting experience of pushing a cart down an aisle. The central question in the kitchen would have to change from What do I want? to What is available? The time spent in the kitchen- in planning, in preparing, in cooking – would jump exponentially… Maybe most important, farm food itself is totally different from what most people now think of as food: none of those colorful boxed and bagged products, precut, parboiled, ready to eat, and engineered to appeal to our basest desires. We were selling the opposite: naked, unprocessed food, two steps from the dirt.”
I’ve been warned by several farmer mentors and teachers that there is such a thing as over-diversification, a farm having way to many enterprises going on that none of them are done truly well, and farm can’t survive financially. I’ve heard this time and time again, but I’ve never actually seen an example of a hyper-diverse farm. This farm is as diverse as it gets and amazingly they’ve made it work (though there were many times in the book where I truly thought they were insane).
Next year Seb and I are going to try farming with another couple, Andrew and Erin. We want to farm cooperatively, and have chatted about a “full diet CSA”, as a future goal of our cooperative. The Full Diet CSA just seems so delicious, so challenging… and perhaps not-at-all financially viable at the price of land these days.
As I lay in bed at night I daydreamed/pined for the communities I’d lived in abroad and wondered what it would look like to connect our full-diet CSA farm to a farm closer to the equator. We could exchange goods, build the capacity of poorer farmers, import coffee, cacao, lemon juice, some dried fruit for special treats for the members. Exchange labour perhaps? Somewhere that can be reached by train maybe to minimize our flights. Northern Mexico? A partner farm community.
By this time my mouth started watering at the thought of dried mangos, and I knew it was really time to turn off “farm brain” and go back to sleep.