This reading group guide for Good Husbandry includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting topics for discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When Kristin Kimball married Mark and started Essex Farm with him, she traded the possibility of a steady paycheck and spontaneous vacations for a life and work that were challenging but beautiful and fulfilling. Ten years later, a run of bad weather, injuries, and financial pressures seemed to conspire against them, but with grit, grace, and a good sense of humor, they dug in deeper and found even greater joy together. Good Husbandry is a gorgeous memoir about animals and plants, farmers and food, friends and neighbors, love and marriage, births and deaths, growth and abundance.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the ways in which the division of Good Husbandry into three parts (“Roots,” “Bedrock,” and “Regrowth”) shaped your understanding of the memoir’s narrative.
2. On page 12, Kristin says that “seven is a number with mystical appeal.” What are some other mystical forces that she believes are at work on the farm?
3. How does Kristin’s understanding of Mark’s personality affect the way she sees the farm, and vice versa? Can the systems that work efficiently in the fields work inside the home? Discuss the different ways they view their marriage.
4. Good Husbandry recounts the events of five years on Essex Farm. How do the setbacks and triumphs that the farm experiences mirror the family’s experience during that time?
5. Kristin wonders if it’s fair to subject her children to farm life, recognizing that she “had chosen farming when [she] was a fully mature adult who had seen a lot of the world and had other choices” (page 40). Do you think this is something all parents experience? What does your family need in order to be happy?
6. On page 95, Kristin observes a connection between Blaine and newcomer Tobias. Of farm relationships, she says that “there was no hiding your true self when you were working side by side for grueling hours,” commenting that “love sparked fast and burned out or else caught and transformed into commitment.” Do you think she was thinking of herself and Mark as much as the blossoming relationships around her?
7. After the birth of her children, Kristin becomes less happy with the state of their farmhouse—both its physical disrepair and its role as the center of farm life. Why do you think this was?
8. Even though Good Husbandry is Kristin’s memoir, we get to know Mark through her eyes. When he is injured, his absence casts a pall over the farm. Do you think during his convalescence Mark was also grappling with the same issues—marriage, family, sustaining the business—Kristin herself dealt with over the course of the book?
9. Family is a central theme throughout the book. How does Kristin’s understanding of family change and grow as she and Mark go from being a couple to being parents?
10. “‘If people knew how much fun farming is,” Mark says, “we wouldn’t be able to keep them away” (page 69). Do you think Kristin believes that? After reading this book, do you believe that? Or are some people more susceptible to the magic of farming?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Kristin’s first memoir, The Dirty Life, with your book club, and compare the two. How has Essex Farm changed? Kristin and Mark’s marriage? Kristin herself?
2. Visit your local farmers’ market and enjoy some seasonal snacks with your book club.
Kristin Kimball is a farmer and a writer living in northern New York. Prior to farming, Kimball worked as a freelance writer, writing teacher, and as an assistant to a literary agent in New York City. A graduate of Harvard University and the author of The Dirty Life and Good Husbandry, she and her husband Mark have run Essex Farm since 2003, where they live with their two daughters.
"Kimball's recounting of how she left the glamour of New York City for the back-breaking -- and very dirty -- work of farming is exquisite and inspiring, filled with insight." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"In her beguiling memoir, Kimball describes the complex truth about the simple life in prose that is observant and lyrical, yet tempered by a farmer’s lack of sentimentality." —Elle Magazine
"In this "know your farmer" era, [Kimball] doesn't sugarcoat or skirt around the challenges and hardships that organic farmers face.That's part of what makes her memoir so memorable." —Associated Press
"Kimball writes about all this in vivid but unsentimental language, equal parts dirt and poetry." —Burlington Free Press “The Dirty Life is a wonderfully told tale of one of the most interesting farms in the country. If you want to understand the heart and soul of the new/old movement towards local food, this is the book you need. It's the voice of what comes next in this land, of the generation unleashed by Wendell Berry to do something really grand.” —Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"The Dirty Life is a delightful, tumultuous, and tender story of the author’s love affair with the man who becomes her husband and the farm they work together to restore. With wisdom and humor, Kristin Kimball describes how she abandoned her career in New York City, leaving behind everything she thought was important for a hard, distinctly unglamorous existence that turns out to be the most fulfilling thing she’s ever done.” —Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses
"As Kimball chronicles that first year in supple prose, the farm takes on vivid form, with the frustrations balancing the satisfactions and the dark complementing the light. Throughout the book, the author ably describes the various trials and tribulations involved... A hearty, chromatic account of a meaningful accomplishment in farming." —Kirkus Reviews
“In this poignant, candid chronicle by season, Kimball writes how she and Mark infused new life into Essex Farm, and lost their hearts to it… (there was) no end to the dirty, hard, fiercely satisfying tasks, winningly depicted by Kimball.” —Publishers Weekly
“Kimball has a gift for throwing into high relief contemporary Americans’ disconnect between farm-life realities and city ambitions.” —Booklist