Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

4.3 28
by Novella Carpenter
     
 

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Urban and rural collide in this wry, inspiring memoir of a woman who turned a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm

Novella Carpenter loves cities-the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can't shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Ambivalent

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Overview

Urban and rural collide in this wry, inspiring memoir of a woman who turned a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm

Novella Carpenter loves cities-the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can't shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Ambivalent about repeating her parents' disastrous mistakes, yet drawn to the idea of backyard self-sufficiency, Carpenter decided that it might be possible to have it both ways: a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, concerts, and a twenty-four-hour convenience mart mere minutes away. Especially when she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop.

What started out as a few egg-laying chickens led to turkeys, geese, and ducks. Soon, some rabbits joined the fun, then two three-hundred-pound pigs. And no, these charming and eccentric animals weren't pets; she was a farmer, not a zookeeper. Novella was raising these animals for dinner. Novella Carpenter's corner of downtown Oakland is populated by unforgettable characters. Lana (anal spelled backward, she reminds us) runs a speakeasy across the street and refuses to hurt even a fly, let alone condone raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Bobby, the homeless man who collects cars and car parts just outside the farm, is an invaluable neighborhood concierge. The turkeys, Harold and Maude, tend to escape on a daily basis to cavort with the prostitutes hanging around just off the highway nearby. Every day on this strange and beautiful farm, urban meets rural in the most surprising ways.

For anyone who has ever grown herbs on their windowsill, tomatoes on their fire escape, or obsessed over the offerings at the local farmers' market, Carpenter's story will capture your heart. And if you've ever considered leaving it all behind to become a farmer outside the city limits, or looked at the abandoned lot next door with a gleam in your eye, consider this both a cautionary tale and a full-throated call to action. Farm City is an unforgettably charming memoir, full of hilarious moments, fascinating farmers' tips, and a great deal of heart. It is also a moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world and what we have given up to live the way we do.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Easily the funniest, weirdest, most perversely provocative gardening book I've ever read. I couldn't put it down... The writing soars." -The New York Times Book Review

"Captivating... By turns edgy, moving, and hilarious, Farm City marks the debut of a striking new voice in American writing." -Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules

"Fresh, fearless, and jagged around the edges, Ms. Carpenter's book... puts me in mind of Julie Powell's Julie & Julia and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love." -The New York Times

"Carpenter, with [her] humor and step-by-step clarity, make[s] it seem utterly possible to grow the kind of food you want to eat, wherever you live." -Los Angeles Times


Dominique Browning
…easily the funniest, weirdest, most perversely provocative gardening book I've ever read. I couldn't put it down…[Carpenter's] tone is clear, relaxed and amiable
—The New York Times Book Review
Nora Krug
Urban-agrarian tension emerges at almost every turn in this entertaining account, as Carpenter's chickens meander into neighbors' apartments (during the avian flu scare!) and her farm is threatened by various forms of the city's indigenous wildlife: opossums, guard dogs, hungry vagrants, real estate developers. Carpenter rolls with it all…
—The Washington Post
Dwight Garner
Fresh, fearless and jagged around the edges, Ms. Carpenter's book…puts me in mind of Julie Powell's Julie & Julia and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Like those writers Ms. Carpenter is not a pampered girl or a trustafarian; in fact she has a beautifully cranky side and can drink and swear like a sailor. Like them too she is hyper-literate…And finally, like Ms. Powell and Ms. Gilbert, Ms. Carpenter is very, very funny…Farm City is filled with terrific stories.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This upbeat account of raising poultry, rabbits, pigs and bees in the middle of a rundown neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., will make listeners either run out to reclaim some vacant lots or cringe at the thought that they might one day live next door to and downwind from such a menagerie. Karen White vividly individualizes the colorful locals, including Bobby (who lives in abandoned cars), the Buddhist monks across the way, the skeptical neighbors, the Chinese landlord and the random foragers who help themselves to Carpenter's bounty. Narrated with cheerful verve, White's performance will charm even those readers without the slightest inclination to get up close and personal with their future meals. A Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 20). (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Urban eccentricity meets rural thrift and tradition in a charming debut memoir about the author's farm in downtown Oakland. Carpenter, the progeny of two hippies whose attempt to go "back to the land" ended in near disaster, was drawn to farming yet unwilling to give up the cultural and intellectual perks of an urban environment: museums, bars, libraries, etc. Already an amateur apiarist and avid gardener, she moved with her husband from the Seattle suburbs to "Ghost Town" Oakland, attracted by its energy and diversity, undeterred by the nightly drive-bys. Of equal interest to the author was the garbage-filled abandoned lot next door. Soon, her visions of heirloom tomatoes, peach trees, fresh squash, even watermelons, became a reality. Inspired, she added a few chickens, then some ducks, geese, two turkeys, a few rabbits and two pigs. Carpenter found herself increasingly enveloped in the beautiful yet brutal circle of life that rules a farm. She gives heart-rending descriptions of her emotions when stray dogs killed one of the turkeys, but also admits that she intended to harvest the remaining bird for Thanksgiving dinner. In warm, witty prose, she describes feeding her livestock with scraps foraged from neighboring restaurants, as well as visits from local children, Vietnamese monks and eccentric neighbors, many of whom joined the author for meals and enjoyed the fruits of her labors. The special relationship between farmer and food was driven home for Carpenter when a local chef taught her traditional rural Italian techniques for harvesting every part of her pigs to create delicacies from headcheese and pork broth to prosciutto and salami. Experiencing Carpenter's trials andtribulations, readers will get an honest portrait of where meals come from and an understanding that connecting with the food chain, even in the smallest ways, can enrich the palate and the soul. A fascinating, vividly written story about city and community that will change perceptions about the local farmers market.
Library Journal
★ 02/01/2014
Carpenter, the daughter of two nature-loving hippie parents, transforms a vacant lot next to her Oakland home into a farm. With amusing exploits of both the neighbors and the animals. (LJ 6/1/09)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594202216
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/11/2009
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.98(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Easily the funniest, weirdest, most perversely provocative gardening book I've ever read. I couldn't put it down... The writing soars." —The New York Times Book Review

"Captivating... By turns edgy, moving, and hilarious, Farm City marks the debut of a striking new voice in American writing." —Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules

"Fresh, fearless, and jagged around the edges, Ms. Carpenter's book... puts me in mind of Julie Powell's Julie & Julia and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love." —The New York Times

"Carpenter, with [her] humor and step-by-step clarity, make[s] it seem utterly possible to grow the kind of food you want to eat, wherever you live." —Los Angeles Times


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