Any book that can make me want to do something I have no desire to do is clearly a good book. And that makes Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer an AWESOME book. I found myself giggling constantly at her way with words and reactions to events, and I found myself desperately wanting to become an urban farmer and try growing something in my backyard (not quite bringing up an animal, but baby steps). This book doesn’t count for any challenges – other than a fun read that I randomly grabbed off a shelf at the library.
Farm City was the Somerville Reads book for 2012 and I read it after the event and it’s made me want to get involved next year. Somerville Reads “is a project that promotes literacy and community by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss books on the same theme.” I truly feel libraries help build community and provide resources for many people who don’t have access to other opportunities and this is just one example. But on to the review!
If I were to ever have a farm I feel it would be something like this, partially chaotic, partially planned and totally scrounged up from nowhere. Novella and her boyfriend live in inner-city Oakland, CA and have commandeered (or squatted upon) an abandoned lot next door and have began growing vegetables – this evolves into the animal production and thus the titles of the three parts of the book: Turkey, Rabbit and Pig.
Overall, I really enjoyed the memoir, Novella Carpenter has a witty way of making things incredibly funny and her interactions with people really made me want to be her new best friend. A lot of this comes from her plain and distinct writing – she didn’t mince words. When talking about meeting her boyfriend for the first time she says, “I like nervous people, because they make me feel confident.” She often times says what she feels and doesn’t edit herself – see the last few paragraphs of chapter one where she talks about “chicken butt detail.”
What was most interesting, and honestly most satisfying, about this book was her desire to do as much for, and in, her local community. She works with other patch farmers to provide food for a local branch of the Black Panthers and she encourages other people in her neighborhood to take some of the produce when they see some they want, but just to make sure they leave enough for everyone else too. And she tops this off by deciding to spend one month only eating from food she’s grown or raised or can scavenge/trade for with the caveat that it must be local grown or made.
And yes – hilarity ensues.
Recommendation: Definitely read it. Whether you know (or care) about food security, local farming, or self sustainability (of the three I knew little about) it’s worth a read if only for her great voice as an author! Just make sure if you’re going to read it you can stomach what happens to the animals. She treats the process (and all of the animals) with great respect and didn’t glorify it.
Opening Line: “I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.”
Closing Line: “Now facing eviction and change, which is always part of our shifting city life, this time it was my farm that would go under. It was sad, yes, but I knew that wherever I went I would continue to grow my own food, raise animals, love and nurture life in places people thought were dead. And if anyone asked, I could say: I am a farmer.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Farm City
“These kids would have few chances to experience the rural places describe din Wendell Berry’s books. Because of Willow, they could harvest a tomato or see a chicken lay an egg, and on a summer day they could watch the mulberry tree ripening. To be a farmer, Willow pointed out, was to share. Unlike a rural farm, a secret place where only a few lucky people may visit, an urban farm makes what seems impossible possible.” (62)
“But then again, everyone at the part was on some kind of Bay Area diet kick anyway. The gluten-intolerant munched on ears of corn in the corner. The vegans had their own grill set up with toasting tofu. The raw-food vegans were sipping on freshly macheted green coconuts. The pescatarians were shoving ceviche into their faces. Defining ourselves by what we eat—that’s what we do for fun around here.” (138)
“Acts from people’s lives are played out on the streets and sidewalks like Shakespearean drama. On this July day, whole families sat on the sidewalk chairs placed just so, to take in or be part of the day’s events. Just the night before, I had happened on a woman yelling at the father of her son for money he owed her.” (149)
“I knew Melvin was right, but now that I was surviving on lettuce and pumpkins for several days, I do believe I would have killed someone for a bag of red-hot Cheetos.” (150)
“The production of food is a beautiful process. Germination, growth, tending, the harvest—every step a miracle, a dialogue with life. But after the 100-yard diet was over, sharing became the main point for me. I could have hoarded all the food myself—processed the tomatoes into cans and pickled the cucumbers. I would have had a groaning cupboard of homegrown food. But then I would have eaten alone.
The visitors to the garden kept coming all through the summer and into the fall, sometimes at night. They didn’t need to come under the cover of darkness, though—when they plucked a tomato from one of my carefully tended vines, they had my blessing. I understood it more than ever: we were all just trying to survive.” (184)
“No one seemed to mind that a Dumpster-diving urban pig farmer was in their midst. In fact, I came to learn that the restaurant industry was filled with other obsessive freaks like Samin, who would never buy a factory-made pickle. I was just another one of the freaks.” (229)