Monday, May 12, 2014

Reads for Writers: The Dirty Life & Fifty Acres and a Poodle

From Kate's Writing Crate...

In honor of spring, I am highlighting two city authors who moved to farms. One never planned on changing from an out-till-dawn-having-fun writer in New York City to an up-before-dawn farmer in upstate New York. The other grew up loving Green Acres and simply dreamed of a farm of her own.

In The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love, author Kristin Kimball shares "the story of two love affairs that interrupted the trajectory of [her] life: one with farming—that dirty, concupiscent art—and the other with a complicated and exasperating farmer [she] found in State College, Pennsylvania."

For Kristin, it all began with an appointment to interview a farmer growing organic crops six hours from Manhattan for a possible article. Mark, the long-legged 14-hour-workday farmer, had no time to talk during daylight so he promised her an interview that evening. In the meantime, she could help one of his assistants hoe the broccoli.

Kristin's impressions of Mark were: "First, this is a man. All the men I knew were cerebral. This one lived in his body. Second, I can't believe I drove all this way to hoe broccoli for this dude."

The farm work didn't stop there. That evening, Kristin, a 13-year vegetarian, helped slaughter a pig. Her outlook and life changed. She was back at the farm at dawn for pancakes and a double helping of homemade sausage. Then she was off to rake around the tomato plants until almost too sore to move as Mark took the pig carcass to a butcher.

She spent the rest of the day following Mark from task to task until she finally begged him to sit down for an hour as she was leaving the next day. While sitting together on an oak log and answering her questions, Mark realized he had found his wife. It took Kristin a bit longer to fall in love, give up her city life, and become a farmer, too. They found a farm of their own and started from scratch.

The Dirty Life spares no details on the hard and filthy work of farming. It is a matter of life and death for crops and animals so people can eat well. As fast as farmers work, there are always more chores than time. The big upsides are seeing the farm come to life as crops are planted, livestock is born, buildings are repaired and put to use followed by the harvesting of gloriously tasty food they produce, sell, and enjoy eating fresh every day. Despite the dirt, blood, manure and exhaustion, Kristin Kimball cannot think of a more rewarding life. Her book is a superbly written tribute to farming, family, and community.

If the reality of farming is too much for you, Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas might be more your style. Pets play the leads on this farm.

The author owns a sick cat named Bob and a small mutt named Betty. After a friendship turns to an unplanned romance, she discovers her fiancé, Alex, always wanted, much to her dismay, a standard Poodle. As fate would have it, an eight-month-old Poodle named Marley comes into their lives.

Jeanne and Alex live in nearby houses in Pittsburgh, but they spend Sundays driving around farm shopping as Jeanne has a farm dream based loosely on Green Acres. One day they find the perfect farm complete with a studio so Jeanne has an inspiring place to write. They make an offer and, after an excruciating delay, they find themselves the owners of it.

Moving to a farm doesn't make owners farmers. There is a lot to learn. Luckily, neighbors are quick to lend a hand, but the mistakes made along the way are funny, embarrassing, or  even near-death experiences.

On the plus side, Alex takes to a tractor like the deer take to the multiflora rose bushes growing all over the place. He is happy farming on weekends after working in the city as a doctor during the week.

The fifty acres are soon filled with more than a Poodle—dogs: Wilma and Sparky; barn cats: Walter and Irving; horses: Cricket and Maggie; and mules: Sassafras (Sassy) and Skippy. Plans are made to add sheep and goats as well as a garden, a pond, and a greenhouse. Then two daughters join the family. Along the way, Jeanne writes deeply about writing, solitude, growing pains, and love which she also captures in two follow up books: The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family and Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures.

This is her dream of farming that came true.



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