Novella Carpenter is my newest heroine. I’ve just finished reading her book Farm City: Confessions of an Urban Farmer, in which she moves into a ramshackle apartment on a dead-end street in a dead-end Oakland, CA neighborhood and hesitantly plants a garden in the empty lot next door. This quickly grows to a full-scale, tenth of an acre, urban farm, complete with beehive, egg-laying chickens, “meat birds” (ducks, turkeys, and more chickens) and rabbits, all successful experiments is loony locavorism that leads to, by the book’s close, her careful cultivation of two Red Duroc pigs for future meals.
Carpenter lives the intersections of food with community and environment in a high crime, low income, politically weak area, and her observations become the backdrop to her story. She does such an excellent job at demonstrating a way of life instead of evangelizing it, and made me think about abundance and waste in different terms. She’s also a completely engaging writer, open and funny in telling her story. I laughed out loud several times, especially when she describes feeding her pigs their first meal scavenged from a Chinatown dumpster. The key to Farm City, however, is that although its premise of two white kids growing vegetables and butchering rabbits in the inner city sounds like it could be the teaser of a doomed Hollywood movie, she is genuinely honest and passionate about her avocation; there is nothing precious, pretentious, self-righteous, or gimmicky in her tale.
This book came along at a perfect time for me. We took down the play structure just as winter started and have been thinking about how best to transform our own tiny tenth of an acre into a vegetable and herb garden. I’ve also been thinking lately about reducing food packaging and waste (compost!) as well as grocery bills. Perfect example: Kid Two loves raspberries but I hate the plastic clamshells they come in, and I hate the price. While reading Farm City I realized I’ve got a perfect section of stucco wall where I can stick a few raspberry canes in the ground, I’m not quite ready to build a brooder, but am freshly inspired to pay some serious attention to growing a few vegetables this year. Compost. Maybe even look into that beehive I’ve been thinking about for several years now. I’ll let you know how it goes.