Weekend Review: Farm City by Novella Carpenter
Novella Carpenter has a personality that I envy. She's the type of woman who will see a group of kids shooting dice, stop her bike, and ask them how to play. She feels just as comfortable chatting with a group of Black Panthers as she does with a group of new age farmers and she's able to convince a top notch chef to apprentice her in the making of artisanal cured pork after he catches her dumpster diving behind his restaurant. This openness has allowed her access to a great number of really amazing experiences one of which, her urban farm, she chronicles in her memoir Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (2009). Living in "GhostTown," a ghetto of Oakland, she and her boyfriend Bill are surrounded by a renegade cast of characters. She adds her own eccentricities to the mix when she squats the abandoned lot next door with an ever-growing community vegetable garden, which at various times also includes bees, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, rabbits, and pigs.
Her story is funny and well told, but Carpenter also casually addresses a host of larger topics surrounding her activities. Issues of poverty, gentrification, food deserts, food security, and eating animals are all explored. There are hilarious stories about the exploits of her various livestock, but also gentle musings on the weight of what it is that she's doing. She doesn't claim to be a revolutionary, but does point out how odd it is that raising one's own food (especially within city limits and without permission to do so) has become a revolutionary act.
My only complaint is that Carpenter seems to have a small beef with writers, such as Wendell Berry, who privilege the rural over the urban. She loves living in the city and is proud to do so, which may make her a tad quick to defend it. To a certain extent, she does have a point. As resources become increasingly scarce people will increasingly need the community interdependence that comes with living in a city. However, I think there's room for both ideals in the future. We need people in rural areas producing food, but we also need city dwellers to be farmers as well and Carpenter provides a wonderful example of how to do so.