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Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

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Book Overview

One of New York Times "Top 10 Books of 2009" (Dwight Garner)"Easily the funniest, weirdest, most perversely provocative gardening book I've ever read. I couldn't put it down . . . The writing soars."... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

A foodie book for those of us who can't afford Whole Foods every week

Farm City chronicles one woman's attempt to grow and raise healthy food for herself in an Oakland ghetto. She begins her "squat farming" in an abandoned lot with a vegetable bed and some fruit trees. Chickens, ducks, and turkeys are quickly added. The former two present a challenge to the carnivorous author - can she raise and later slaughter her own food? Apparently the answer is "yes," because rabbits and pigs later join her menagerie. This is definitely a foodie book in that the author espouses the values of fresh food that has been locally grown. There is lots of talk of the disconnect between living animals and the packaged meats available at the grocery store, etc., but coming from Carpenter these ideas do not come across as pretentious or inaccessible. It is hard to accuse a woman who works three jobs, lives in the ghetto, and shares her harvests with her neighbors of being a food snob, and that is why this book works so well - Carpenter shows that you don't have to be a member of the white upper-middle class or shop at Whole Foods to eat healthy, sustainable foods. She serves as an ambassador for farming in her own neighborhood, where the kids take an interest in gardening and especially her animals. As a narrator Carpenter is honest, occasionally self-deprecating, and very, very funny. The tales she tells of her animals (dumpster diving to find enough food to feed two growing pigs) and her neighbors (a local African American woman runs an underground restaurant serving fish she caught herself) are hilarious and will warm your heart. Particularly moving are the sections dealing with animal slaughter - the respect and love she has for the animals she has raised for food are obvious, and she conveys well the conflicting emotions that many of us omnivores share regarding meat. I highly recommend this book to any foodie, especially those who find Michael Pollan a tad too pretentious.

A Surprising Treat

I bought this book on a whim--as it's not my usual reading fare. Within the first few sentences, I was hooked. This is the most engaging memoir I've ever read. I did read Barbara Kingsolver's book ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE, and I found it both interesting and educational, but while reading it, I never seemed to lose my awareness that Barbara Kingsolver has a LOT of money. Dumping society to start a farm was a great deal of work on her family's part--but they could also afford to hire people with large equipment to come in and prepare their gardening soil. And they have a certain safety net at the prospect of failure. In FARM CITY, Novella and her good-hearted boyfriend, Bill, are so poor, they must continually come up with creative ways to shoe-string their urban farm and keep it going. Seriously, they are scavenging wood from garbage piles to build their raised gardens. Novella takes two buckets out into the streets of the ghetto in Oakland to go "weed hunting" to bring some treats for her hens. They borrow a truck and drive way out of town to shovel up free horse manure themselves to use as fertilizer. This alone made this book stand out for me. One small warning though . . . vegetarians may not enjoy this book about halfway through. Some of the farm animals Novella raises are there as "food," and she does not flinch from killing them herself--and explaining the best methods. I grew up on a farm, so this didn't surprise me, but I do think readers should be warned. Anyway, the book is wise and very funny at times and clever and unique and also provides a warm theme of community spirit. I read it in three sittings.

I bet Wendell Berry is smiling...

Right now there is a major movement towards local food production, self sufficiency and a less energy intensive lifestyle happening in our country. Farm City shows us the meaningful potential role city dwellers have to become part of this movement, not just as consumers making more informed food choices, but as active participants and producers. Evidence of the movement is everywhere. You can go see Food Inc., check out Will Allen's Growing Power website, read one of Michael Pollan's great books, essays or talks, etc. etc. But Farm City gives us something truly unique, something we did not have before: a shining example of the art of the possible in the hardscrabble setting of a tough urban neighborhood. It is a story of the agrarian dream told with wit, grace and humility, that is both educational and entertaining, never preachy or moralistic. But Farm City offers more than just a riveting narrative of a personal journey and pilgrimage. As the subtitle suggests, the book also offers an education to those who want to learn about the practicalities of growing food and raising animals at the backyard scale. It will inspire anyone on the local food journey to begin what we can, right here, right now. Regardless of where we are on the learning curve. No matter how marginal or provisional our version of "farm" may be. Novella Carpenter shows us that growing food is finally all about our connections and relationships: to the land, to plants and animals, and to each other. As a result, it is also a political act, and possibly one of the most radical and concrete responses we can make to the social, environmental and energy-related problems pressing on us today. Ultimately, it is about faith: that in spite of the adversities and predators of various kinds that inevitably arise, the good earth does provide to those who persevere. Read this book if you are looking for the inspiration and courage to begin a new thing in this time of amazing transition. It will make your heart glad.

Great book!!!

Delivered with irreverent gusto and great sense of humor, Novella's radical message is that aside from the great taste and some of the larger global implications of keeping our food sources local and fresh, it's actually loads of fun to grow veggies in your backyard, keep bees and raise turkeys, then share the delectable fruits of this labor of love with friends and neighbors. While it may not be everyone's "gateway drug" to 300-pound hogs and home-made salami it's a great way to debunk the conventional wisdom that the origin of food production is so complex that it needs to be in the hands of engineers in far away factories, and to reacquaint ourselves with the most basic, important, and timeless of all human activity: eating! Farm City is a tour de force of unadulterated American pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit, a beautifully subversive dumpster-diving squat and- slopfest of ravenous (pro)portions. The founding mothers and fathers would be proud to see that gigantic middle finger flying in the face of the tightly controlled empire of industrialized agriculture whose profit-driven motive is to keep We The People removed from our food source, wandering like lost lemmings in supermarket aisles full of shiny prepackaged foodomercials. Novella Carpenter's voice is refreshingly new for some and profoundly ancient for others, but from her own perspective she's just a hungry gal jonesing for tasty food, determined to let her belly do the talking.
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