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From the author of the beloved bestseller The Dirty Life, this “superb memoir chronicles the evolution of a farm, marriage, family, and her own personal identity with humor, insight, and candor” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) detailing life on Essex Farm—a 500-acre farm that produces food for a community of 250 people.

The Dirty Life chronicled Kimball’s move from New York City to 500 acres near Lake Champlain where she started a new farm with her partner, Mark. In Good Husbandry, she reveals what happened over the next five years at Essex Farm.

Farming has many ups and downs, and the middle years were hard for the Kimballs. Mark got injured, the weather turned against them, and the farm faced financial pressures. Meanwhile, they had two small children to care for. How does one traverse the terrain of a maturing marriage and the transition from being a couple to being a family? How will the farm survive? What does a family need in order to be happy?

Kristin chose Mark and farm life after having a good look around the world, with a fair understanding of what her choices meant. She knew she had traded the possibility of a steady paycheck, of wide open weekends and spontaneous vacations, for a life and work that was challenging but beautiful and fulfilling. So with grit and grace and a good sense of humor, she chose to dig in deeper.

Featuring some of the same local characters and cherished animals first introduced in The Dirty Life, (Jet the farm dog, Delia the dairy cow, and those hardworking draft horses), plus a colorful cast of aspiring first-generation farmers who work at Essex Farm to acquire the skills they need to start sustainable farms of their own, Good Husbandry “considers what it means to build a good, happy life, and how we are tested in that endeavor” (Mary Beth Keane, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes).

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.

Introduction

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.
Photograph by Deborah Feingold

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. 

“Exquisite… describes the surprising enchantment of crops that need tending, cows that need milking... The children thrive, meals are glorious and bountiful… my gratitude for those who spend their lives giving us food grows ever more bountiful. I closed this lovely book with a fervent wish that everyone in it live happily ever after.” 
–Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review

“Frighteningly intelligent… an excellent follow-up…  offers a vivid example of what a good, sustainable, modern family farm looks like but also a reminder of how furiously, almost masochistically, devoted you have to be to keep such a place alive.”
–Stephen Heyman, Vogue

“Captures the feel of late autumn days in the fields, the joy of raising their two daughters on the farm. But it also records the strain of a struggling small business and the pressure that can bring to bear on a marriage... Survival is victory for small farms these days.”
–Brian Mann, NPR

“The author-turned-farmer gets real about marital problems, financial hardships, and the pleasure of eating what you grow.”
–Sam Gillette, People Magazine

 “The achievement at Essex Farm is heroic, and this book is a vivid and inspiring account of alternative agriculture, filled with a visceral feeling for the earth and a love of seasonal, organic food.”
–PD Smith, The Guardian

"Kimball is a key voice for the young farmers taking on the hardest but most satisfying work."
—Concord Monitor

“Kimball’s superb memoir chronicles the evolution of a farm, marriage, family, and her own personal identity with humor, insight, and candor…Readers curious about small-farm life, or simply how one woman weathers great change both professionally and personally, will love Kimball’s gutsy, generous second memoir.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“This book is for all readers of memoir and lovely prose.”
Booklist, STARRED review

“With warmth, honesty and vivid anecdotes, Kimball weaves a compelling narrative… She writes movingly about accepting the gifts and the hardships of each season, outer and inner. Good Husbandry is a clear-eyed tribute to a tough but nourishing rural life and the deep, sustainable joy it provides.”
—Shelf Awareness

“Like all good stories – fiction or nonfiction –  Kimball’s memoir considers what it means to build a good, happy life, and how we are tested in that endeavor. You don’t need to know the first thing about farming to love this book.”
—Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask Again, Yes

"I’ve always wondered what became of Kristin and Mark after The Dirty Life, and this book delivers. Their family grew, their crew grew, and Kristin tells the story of their hardships with grace, humor and honesty. I’m rooting for them." 
—Andrea Bemis, author of Dishing Up the Dirt

More books from this author: Kristin Kimball