Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading: Farm City by Novella Carpenter

My partner and I both just finished Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. This book is a good read for anyone interested in the quirky adventures in inner city farming, as Novella writes passionately about farming her garden, orchard, bees, and livestock in a formerly vacant lot, living "off the land" in a rough part of downtown Oakland.

In particular, the book focusses heavily on her experiment in raising chickens, turkeys, rabbits and pigs at her urban farm. It's important to note that Novella is by no means a vegetarian - her livestock raising project is not just for gaining eggs or manure, but in fact for meat. What starts with a coop full of hens, ends up including a beehive, and many more turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and two full grown pigs. She explores what it means to humanely, respectfully kill animals that she has raised herself from day 1 (with more than enough graphic detail of the slaughtering process - these are lengthy sections of the book, which need to be skipped or skimmed over by the vegetarian or vegan reader!). The book is hilarious, inspiring, insightful, and a nice addition to 100-Mile Diet literature. At one point in the book she embarks on a month-long 100-Foot Diet where she only subsists on food from her garden or wild harvested in the city.

There are various other amazing urban farmers you meet along the way, including Novella's friend Willow whose non-profit farm called City Slicker Farm provides produce and backyard gardening skills for inner city families thereby increasing food self-sufficiency in West Oakland where store-bought healthy produce is expensive and hard to come by.

One of the final paragraphs of the book sums up the importance of seeing urban farming as a community venture that can't be done alone - a network of many small projects, together adding up to something large and significant. She writes:

"Although my holding was small - and temporary - I had come to realize that urban farming wasn't about one farm, just as a beehive isn't about an individual bee. I thought of Jennifer's beehive and garden. Of Willow's backyard farms that dot the city of Oakland. Urban farms have to be added together in order to make a farm. So when I say that I'm an urban "farmer", I'm depending on other urban farmers, too. It's only with them that our backyards and squatted gardens add up to something significant. And if one of ours goes down, another will spring up."

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