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Book club read #2: The Dirty Life

The Dirty LifeI figured we all deserved a break from hard-to-parse books during the dog days of summer.  So our second selection will be a light and fun memoir. 

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love follows a back-to-the-land couple who eventually developed perhaps the most interesting CSA currently in existence.  Here's a description of Essex farm (from the author's website):

Essex Farm offers a year-round, full diet, free choice membership. We produce grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken, eggs, fifty different kinds of vegetables, milk, grains and flour, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, and soap. Members come to the farm on Fridays, from 3pm to 7pm, and take what they need for the week, in any quantity or combination they choose. We sometimes limit scarce items, like maple syrup or the year’s first tomatoes, but most food is available on an all-you-can-eat basis

We currently farm 600 acres and feed 222 members. We are powered by fifteen solar panels, nine draft horses, ten full-time farmers, and three tractors. We do not use synthetic fertilizer, herbicide, or pesticide. Our animals eat feed we’ve grown ourselves or local hay and local, certified organic grain.

The all-you-can-eat membership price for 2012 is $3300 per year for the first adult in a household, and $2900 for the second adult, with a $400 discount for each additional adult. Children over 3 are $100 per year of age (e.g., a five-year-old is $500 for the year, a seven-year-old is $700, etc.).

It's an intriguing model, and my understanding is that Kristin Kimball writes about the Weekend Homesteaderpath to building their farm in an easy-to-read and entertaining manner.  So, head to your library or book store and pick up a copy!  We'll begin discussions on July 25 (with more information about how much of the book we'll discuss in the first chunk once I have a copy in my hands).  I hope that even those of you who've been driven away by Thoreau's excessively long sentences will return to the fold!

My paperback is currently at the printer, so those of you who have preordered will have a copy before too long!  Thanks to everyone who has bought it sight unseen.

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That's over sixty bucks a week per adult. Wonder how that compares with readers' food budgets. In 1900, urban Americans spent over half their incomes on food.
Comment by Errol Mon Jul 2 12:58:09 2012

Daddy --- I know, it does sound like a lot, until you realize that if you don't eat out or consume things like chocolate, presumably they're providing your entire food intake (unlike most CSAs). provides food costs for average Americans at four income levels. An adult male Mark's age is listed as spending $38.10, $50.80, $62.60, or $76.70 per week on food at home, depending on whether he's on the thrifty, low cost, moderate cost, or liberal plan. They expect women to spend just a hair less.

Given that data, this CSA is really right in the ball park for an average American.

Comment by anna Mon Jul 2 13:28:54 2012
We belong to a CSA (Afton Field Farm) who are moving towards this model, and we love it. It's well worth the investment for us.
Comment by Kyrie Tue Jul 3 01:17:40 2012
Went onto my library website as soon as you posted about this book. 28 people waiting to get it, but the audiobook version had no wait, so I snagged it. I look forward to discussing this!
Comment by Brandy Tue Jul 3 01:35:58 2012

Kyrie --- I'm glad to hear from someone who's enjoying this kind of CSA!

Brandy --- Drat --- I thought the book had been out long enough that there wouldn't be phenomenal waits for it. But it is nearing best-seller status.... Glad you could find an audio copy! (My little library doesn't even have it. :-) )

Comment by anna Tue Jul 3 06:49:01 2012
Sounds like a great book! I just found you (while looking for tips on raspberry pruning). I was able to order the book at our library with no wait so hopefully I'll have it in a day or two. Thanks! Looking forward to it!
Comment by Paula Sat Jul 21 08:49:56 2012
Paula --- Glad to hear you're onboard! We'll be starting discussions on Wednesday.
Comment by anna Sat Jul 21 19:59:54 2012

I would JUMP at the opportunity to participate in a CSA like this! For my family of 7 it would be about $185 per week which is as much as I spend now on far lower quality food than this. We are almost completely grain-free (mostly restaurant meals have grains, at home we're pretty clean) so food is pricey since we can't depend on low-cost fillers like pasta and bread. The health benefits have been wonderful and I have no desire to go back. I hope these folks set off a trend that heads further south soon :) Also, I have the book on order from my library and I think it's ready to pick up; I'm just waiting for the next trip down that side of the mountain. Can't wait to get started!

Comment by Lindsey in AL Mon Jul 30 19:55:05 2012
Lindsey --- It does look like a very good deal if you have lots of young kids, especially if you can train them to eat real food. :-) We're with you on the grain front, and have found that you can often replace pasta with broccoli in restaurant meals --- the waiter will look at you funny, but will often comply.
Comment by anna Tue Jul 31 08:46:06 2012
YIKES. For my husband and I that's $516 a month, which is more than twice our food budget.
Comment by Emily Thu Jun 20 09:49:57 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime