Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Novella Carpenter: Urban Farmer

I just finished reading Novella Carpenter’s new book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Novella and her boyfriend Bill moved to Oakland from Seattle where they had already started raising bees and having chickens for eggs—and a garden. But on 28th Street and MLK in Oakland, CA, they really found their very own farm. Their rented second floor duplex had a large empty lot next door and a backyard. So they “squatted” on the lot (they did have the permission of the fellow who owned the land but were aware that at any moment he could decide to sell it) and gradually turned it into a huge garden and made the produce available to folks in this rough and tumble neighborhood.

But they didn’t stop with the garden. Bees arrived in a box at the Oakland post office, full grown laying hens were purchased from a local store, and a box of meat poultry, Homesteaders Delight, arrived in the mail. Little fluffy chicks, ducks, geese, and four young turkeys. Then on to rabbits. And finally two young pigs purchased at an auction in Boonville. Young pigs which grew to 300 pounds and had to be fed well and often. Thanks to Bill and Novella’s prodigious skills as Dumpster Divers, their animals ate very well indeed. It is an amazing story. I have a huge amount of admiration for her sense of humor, her ingenuity, her ability to learn fast on the job, and her commitment to seeing the projects through to the end. She is also a wonderful writer.

I took these photos a couple of days ago. I really wanted to see what 28th and MLK looked like. I don’t know for sure that they still live in the upstairs apartment and the house is a different color from what she described in the book. But I saw what looked like the handle to a garden tool on their front porch and there was this huge garden next to it with the sign, so I’m figuring they are still around. No animals in sight from the entrance to the garden. I couldn’t see into the backyard and didn’t want to venture further.

Order this book from your favorite independent bookseller as soon as you can. She'll be reading at Readers Books in Sonoma on Sunday, August 2, 2009. And let me know what you think of the book.

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