In Farm City, Novella Carpenter and her boyfriend Bill move into an apartment in inner-city Oakland. Gradually, starting with her “squat garden” in an abandoned lot next door, Carpenter becomes an urban farmer. She keeps a worm bin, bees, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, and eventually even pigs in her backyard. She dumpster dives for produce to feed her steadily increasing brood, and learns to slaughter and butcher her own meat.
Carpenter strikes a delicate balance between respectful nurturing (of the soil and her animals) and hard-headed pragmatism. She grieves when her watermelon is stolen or her turkey is killed by junkyard dogs. But she is also philosophical about the ups and downs of gardening, and the realities of killing animals she has raised.
She also meets and befriends an eclectic group of neighbors, local business people, Black Panthers, and fellow urban farmers. And in spite of the smells and the rooster crowing at dawn and the occasional wandering turkey or pig, I got the impression that Novella and Bill would be awesome neighbors.
Locavore takes on a whole new meaning, when Carpenter decides to try out an 100-yard diet–eating exclusively from her farm for an entire month.
As I read this book, I thought about all of the work that goes into maintaining my modest backyard garden, and I was even more impressed by the amount of time and effort Carpenter put into her urban farm. I have been on the fence about starting a worm farm because it seems like it might be too much of a commitment. The very idea of caring for a whole yard full of animals boggles my mind. Not only that, but Carpenter casually mentions, just as an aside really, that during this time she was also writing and selling stories to magazines–enough to quit all of her outside jobs except the bio-fuel station! I think she may be my hero!
In the end, my major take-away from Farm City was this: Producing food is a lot of work. We can choose how much of that work to do ourselves, and how much of ourselves we want to invest in the process. The answer will be different for everyone, and for different reasons. But the costs will be paid, one way or another.
Farm City was beautifully written, with a light touch, and a lot of sensitivity. Carpenter tells a heck of a story.