“What the hay is an urban farmer?!” It’s a question both Farm City author cum Oakland’s “Ghost Town Farm”(er) Novella Carpenter and myself have wrestled with, and heck, had to come to terms with. Even while the word – like locavore before it – seems to have finally been uploaded to the American lexicon, the term still perplexes a great many, which only goes to show how much more work we have to do collectively to turn the tide in favor of sustainable cities and foodbelts.
I remember my own days in Rochester, NY as an urban farmer growing on school grounds and on borrowed backyard land across the city when I’d be approached with the eternal question of “what are you doin’ over there?!” You can even imagine the looks of disbelief (and sometimes horror) when I’d tell a handsome gentleman in a bar that I was a farmer. They’d take one look at (cleaned-up) me and say “You?!”
Often times, when my kitchen floor was covered with dirt and produce awaiting delivery, my countertops lined with foul-smelling jars of moldy tomato pulp, and entire rows of Brussel’s sprouts thought to be collards were uprooted and sold on the street for crack money, I’d stop and say to myself: “I should keep a diary and turn this experience into a book.” Well, Novella beat me to it. So you can only imagine my great interest in reading this book about a trailblazing young woman with more chutzpah than most dudes workin’ the land and raising livestock in one of Oakland, CA’s less “tasteful” neighborhoods strewn with tumbleweaves (yes, discarded hair pieces that have become part of the landscape).
The book is organized not by the four seasons as one might expect of a farmer’s journal, but rather in three sections: Turkey, Rabbit, Pig. For each of three years on the farm detailed in the book, Novella Carpenter and beau gradually up the urban farming ante in the species that thrive on their squatted lot. At times there seems to be an inverse relationship to her level of sanity too – hogs in the inner city? Yes, the book is complete with stories of dumpster diving in the alleys behind Berkeley’s famed restaurants for pig feed and neighbors complaining of stench, and anxiety leading up to the eventual slaughter of the numerous residents of which she has become so fond. Novella is even a fan of Slow Food, and has taken to raising a few Ark of taste varieties of veggies and poultry.