They met on an interview, then got married and started a CSA. She wrote it all down in a book, and now they've founded of the Essex Farm Institute.
Kristin documented their relationship in her popular memoir, “The Dirty Life,” published by Scribner in 2010. The book tells the tale of a couple falling love, moving upstate and founding their own diversified, sustainable, organic farm.
The thing with lives as portrayed in books, though: They keep going.
‘We want it to be West Point for farming. We want it to be attractive to the daughter of a Midwestern grain farmer and to the Brooklyn hipster urban-rooftop farmer.’
Today Kristin and Mark still run Essex Farm, but now they harvest alongside their two kids. When they started the farm in 2003, their CSA (as one of the only full-diet CSAs in the U.S., it includes meat, dairy and grain) had seven members. Today it has 225. The first year, they operated the farm alone, with one volunteer. Now they have up to 15 full-time employees in the summer. They have increased their acres from 14 to 78 (and will soon add another 273).
Most recently the couple has been hard at work founding a school – the Essex Farm Institute, a training program with both short-term (classes on draft horses, welding) and long-term (live-in farm school) options. “We want it to be West Point for farming,” says Mark. “We want it to be attractive to the daughter of a Midwestern grain farmer and to the Brooklyn hipster urban-rooftop farmer.”
But, for all their hard-won technical knowledge, the human touch is still the most important part of their work. When asked what the most challenging thing was those first few years, Kristin laughs. “Each other,” she says.
“The agricultural problems are always there – climate and soil – but managing people and being married to people – that’s the most difficult,” adds Mark. “I think when I started farming I hoped that I could stop paying attention to interpersonal relationships, and just do the work, but you can’t.”