Sunday, March 17, 2013

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

I have fallen in love. Yes, a new book has been added to my list of all time favorites and may have just bumped Animal, Vegetable, Miracle off of it's spot as my all time favorite gardening book and I'll try to tell you why in this review/lovefest. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will always hold a special place in my heart because it's the book that really upped my love for gardening and took it to a whole new level....but Novella Carpenter brought it all down to my level and I would imagine to many other readers' level with Farm City. And on top of that she's just so DAMN loveable!!!

Carpenter lives in a not so great area of Oakland, CA, yet she's embraced her surroundings and turned the abandoned lot behind her apartment into a little oasis of an urban farm. Her apartment is surrounded by liquor stores, a buddhist monastery, drug users, a chinatown, immigrants from the world over, bohemian people,'s a melting pot for sure. As one reviewer said on Amazon's site for the book, the difference between Kingsolver and Carpenter is that Kingsolver had money. She could afford to move her family to a giant farm and be self sustained and hire help and if it failed she'd be ok. Novella Carpenter and her husband couldn't. And they made it work.

Carpenter literally built her farm from the ground up in this empty lot behind her apartment. She built raised beds with found scrap wood from around the neighborhood and started with vegetables. She drove with a rented truck to get free horse manure to use as fertilizer for the soil. And then she started with her livestock with paying I belive $15 for a box of chickens, ducks and turkeys and fed them from food that she would get from dumpsters from local restaurants and bakeries every night. This would become part of her daily routine with her husband. Once she brought two pigs onto the farm, the dumpster diving would take on even a higher load! All this is to say, she did this on her own. And she did it not just for her but for her neighborhood.

Carpenter openly says in her book that she doesn't own the land that she farms on, so she has no problem with people in the neighborhood coming in and picking their own vegetables to take home with them. And they often do. I felt so inspired by this book. More than I can even put into words. I know my apartment complex wouldn't even begin to allow me to do half of what she's able to do at her apartment, but it got me to thinking of what I COULD be doing :p

A warning to vegetarians, Carpenter does raise chickens, ducks, rabbits and pigs for meat and butchers them in the book. But let me say this...I have never seen anyone write about animals with as much respect as Carpenter does and no one has made me think so much about the meat that I eat as much as Carpenter has. She presents a philosophy that I've never taken the time to think about before. If you're going to eat meat, you should be able to kill it. You should know that animal, how it was raised and treated and where it came from. For Carpenter, raising her animals is a beautiful and loving thing and killing them is a very hard thing, a sad thing and almost a ceremonious thing. Eating them is a celebration of their life and done with the utmost respect. I really can't put into words the gentleness and compassion that she has for animals. But if a vegetarian were to ask me "do you think I could handle this?" my answer would be "yes." Because of her respect and compassion for the animals she raises.

We need more Novella Carpenters in this world. If not people who are actually going to DO what she does and actually create these beautiful urban farms that feed a community, reduce their own ecological footprint and bring together communities that could otherwise revolt on themselves then at least people who have her spirit....her compassion...her natural hope and need to want to make the world a better place however she can.

She writes beautifully and there's an innocence to her voice throughout. There's never a moment when she comes off as "greater than thou" as some food and gardening writers can. In fact, I think a day in Novella's garden with her would be one of the greatest days of my life if I ever had that chance! She's most certainly a kindred spirit. She says without hesitation that she's constantly learning herself. And perhaps best of all, she has an amazing sense of humor. There were moments where I just laughed out loud listening to this book.

Oh yeah, I listened to the audio book of this one which was fantastic by the way! It was narrated by Karen White who did a wonderful job with it and it FELT like Novella Carpenter was reading it herself. Id' be curious to know what Novella thought of the audio if she ever listened to it! Of course I've dug into the internet doing as much research as I can and I learned that she's nearly completed a new memoir called Gone Feral and I cannot WAIT for that one to come out :) She also keeps a blog about the goings on of her beautiful and amazing far at I highly recommend you add it to whatever reader you're going to use now that Google Reader is going away...more on that later *angry face* Also, if you have 12 minutes to spare, here's an amazing video with Novella Carpenter that I actually watched a couple of years ago...if you don't have 12 minutes, bookmark it to watch later! Warning....shows butchered animals briefly as she talks about it not being easy...if you don't think you can handle seeing that you may not want to watch it. If you can handle that, watch away! And go buy this book!!!!


Debi said...

Well, luckily for me, I don't have to go buy it. But I do think you've now got me determined to fit it in this month. *sigh* There's still so many I really really really want to fit and I know I can't get to them all. :(

DesLily said...

happiness is a book on "farming"..I can't wait until you have your own home!

Chris Howard said...

Debs, I SO hope you CAN fit it in this month!!!! It's so so so so good!!!! I really want you to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle too :p But I think if I had to choose between the two, you'd like this one more. Though I think you'd love both to pieces!!! I know you would in fact. And if worse comes to worse, both would probably fit into at least one other category this year, right?

Mama, Yes indeed it is!!! God, I can't wait until I have a home of my own either!!! I don't think there's going to be a single piece of grass in my yard :p

Ali said...

What a wonderful book, I love that she did this. I wish I could grow food, I seem to have a black thumb when it comes to anything but herbs.

Beth F said...

I can have chickens where I live (our neighbors even have horses!) but my days of big, big gardening are over. I still love my gardens but I just don't have time for everything anymore. Plus our trees have gotten so big that the yard is in shade most of the time. I love following your gardening adventures.

Heather said...

Okay, so, I'm wondering what I missed. Becaus I tried to listen to this one a few years ago and I couldn't do it. Just couldn't do it. I can't remember if it was the writing or the reader (I'm leaning towards reader) or the timing even! But I'm thinking I have to try again, if you say its better than AVM, cause like you, that book changed my life. So, just cause it's you, and I trust you with these things, Imma gonna try it again.

Jeane said...

I really liked this book too.

Snowball said...

It looks great! I just put it in my cart. Shhhhhh. Don't tell anyone.

I know I could never be a farmer because of the animal killing thing. My husband and I laughed about the fact that we couldn't even keep chickens because we'd end up feeding all the extra roosters and old hens that don't lay anymore.

What can I say? We're city kids. I can grow flowers, fruits, & veggies like nobody's business, but I even 'relocate' bugs from my house ...