The dirty life

Thursday, March 23, 2017 5:11 PM

“As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you.”

Kristan Kimball

In her book “The Dirty Life,” Kristan Kimball lays bare the realities of farming 500 acres in upstate New York along with her husband.

She also extols with absolute clarity the transformative power of farming and turns practically poetic in her descriptions of everything from tapping sugar maples to working a one-bottom horse-drawn walking plow to making blood sausage from a newly-butchered pig. Her acres become her world, and she is transformed by the experience.

Kimball is adamant about the neverending work it takes to produce food. To plow a single acre is the equivalent of digging a ditch 9 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and 11 miles long. The farmer faces equal measures backbreaking toil, calamity, frustration, and satisfaction.

Thank goodness there are plenty of hardy souls in Montezuma County willing to put in the sweat equity needed to bring us local organic food every Saturday morning at the Cortez Farmers Market.

The market is in the full throes of its young adulthood. There is an explosion of greens everywhere you look. Mixed lettuce, butter lettuce, assorted baby squash, and sunflower greens can be found at the White Dove Farm. Battle Rock Farms features purple bell peppers, speckled beans, jalapenos, and something new: pressed cards made by owner Lindsey Yarborough from dried flowers and weeds found on her property. Their patterns are unexpectedly lacy, delicate, and exquisite.

LickSkillet Farm, new this year to the Farmers Market and run by Nina Williams and Greg Vlaming, has a striking display of clean bunches of baby beets, carrots, swiss chard, bibb and romaine lettuce, onions, turnips, basil, flanked by wild arrays of single and double zinnias, hollyhocks, snaps, mini-purple pokers, crimson and purple asters. Have you ever noticed how much a cut hollyhock resembles a gladiolus?

Black D Spicer has apricots, raspberries, edible pea pods, scallions, snap peas, and young thin green beans called haricots vert (translation: green beans) which are tender enough to be eaten raw. Green beans are legumes that typically are harvested immature. If left too long on the vine, the seeds inside swell and the tender pods will become tough and fibrous, requiring longer slower cooking. Green beans wilt quickly after picking, so look for beans that are crisp enough to snap cleanly in half. To preserve their color and freshness, beans need to be blanched soon after they are brought home if they’re not going to be eaten raw. Cook them in enough water so that the water returns to a boil quickly after adding the beans. Cook 1-2 minutes, and then plunge them into ice water.

Tomatoes are showing their cheek, but they sell out 15 minutes after the 7:30 open. It won’t be long before we see a blizzard of tomatoes. Fennel is making an appearance – bulbous and hairy and the palest green, but has a pleasant flavor that pairs with tomato. Here is a recipe from Michelle Martz of SongHaven Farm in Cahone that uses both. Serve it hot, tepid or even chilled.


Saute in large saucepan in 2 T butter and 2 T oil:

1 medium onion

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped

Cook for 1 minute.


1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 potato, cubed

Cook for 5 minutes.


2 medium tomatoes, chopped

3 C chicken stock

¼ C chopped parsley

2 tsp. thyme

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the fennel is very soft, about 30 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly, then puree it in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the pot.


¼ C heavy cream.

Add salt and pepper to taste and a generous sprinkling of paprika.