A Book Review: Farm City by Novella Carpenter

farm cityAs 2013 began, my neighborhood book club selected Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter to read and discuss. As an avid gardener I was feeling a bit smug, thinking that this was going to be a discussion where I would shine as knowledgeable. However, the deeper I got into the book the more I kept thinking, “Geez Louise this lady is crazier than a bed bug. What the heck is she doing now?” The book is less about gardening and more about a life philosophy and style of living.

In brief the book chronicles one woman’s experiences as an urban farmer. Her “farm” is a vacant lot on a dead-end street in the ghetto of Oakland, CA, one of the worst parts of the Bay Area. With her boyfriend’s help, she takes over an abandoned lot to create a vegetable garden. Those few raised beds expand into bee and poultry keeping and eventually she goes on to raise rabbits and a couple pigs. She has almost a religious belief in how to raise, prepare (kill, cook, etc.) and share her food stuffs.

After reading the book I made a mental list of things I would like to try and those that under no circumstances are an option for me.

Things to try:

  • More heirloom plant types
  • Start more plants from seeds
  • Provide bee home or shelter options for wild bees
  • Experiment more with new recipes using ingredients (vegetable or meat cuts) I haven’t used before
  • Give more garden produce to the local Food Pantry

Things I will never ever do:

  • Raise animals to eat
  • Bring ducks into my house to kill them
  • Go out in public with turkey poop on my shirt
  • Dumpster dive for food for animals

I may rethink the raise animals to eat edict. When I was growing up a neighbor had a trout stream engineered in his backyard. Every spring he’d stock it with trout minnows and by fall there was a wonderful feast. If I could have a trout stream, I might reconsider meat producing.

Overall ratings on GoodReads.com gave it 4 ½ stars out of 5 with most reviewers enjoying the humor. I was intrigued  with some of Novella’s ideas but never having lived in an area as urban as she described the whole concept seems foreign and outlandish. I kept wondering boring things, like how does she have time to do all these things and keep a job sufficient to pay the mortgage?

You can follow Novella Carpenter’s blog about happenings on GhostTown Farm at www.novellacarpenter.com

After thought – I should mention one member of our book club announced that after reading this book she is giving up meat entirely. Yup, vegetarian all the way.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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