Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: Farm City

You will get a very real, entertaining, touching, sometimes maddening view of urban farming when you read this awesome book! As I mention in my review, the death of animals is involved, but in a respectful way. I can't wait to check out Novella Carpenter's other books. She is full of passion, knowledge, and gritty determination.


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This Novella chick is tough. Refreshing, hilarious, full of heart--but tough as nails. Setting up an urban farm in a large vacant lot in the ghetto of Oakland, she weaves a fascinating tale of the joys and frustrations involved. Stolen produce (when she is more than willing to share), massacred, lost, or escapee animals, a wide assortment of crazy neighbors, mysteriously vanishing bee colonies...her frustrations are many. Yet she also has a deep love for her neighborhood and all its quirks, even if she is realistic about its fleeting existence. Through all the relationships forged and hard work done, she and all her neighbors may ultimately move on/be evicted/flee. As attached as she becomes to her little piece of community and land, she must have the grit and strength to start over in a new part of the urban landscape if needed. I really enjoyed her hopelessly optimistic, yet slightly jaded attitude.


Novella Carpenter's sense of community is just the kind of model I think is needed for successful urban farms. She wants to share, deeply wants to get any and all neighbors involved. Many of the books I've read about growing food focus heavily on self-reliance: growing your own food, putting it up for later. But Carpenter wants to spread the wealth, connect people to the garden. Aware that the plot she's gardening on is not even hers, she can't conceive of the idea that she'd own all the food. She considers her neighbors her family--albeit a strange one. Even after nearly being mugged and watching a junkie shoot up right across the street, she is resolved to stay put and make her mark--and not as an outsider, as a real member of this odd, dysfunctional community.


Now, about the animals. They are central to her farm; ducks, chickens, geese, rabbits, even pigs. I will warn you--if you are a vegetarian, you may be horrified. Novella is definitely no vegetarian.


For all the dreams I have of transforming the empty plot across the street into a urban farm/permaculture/secret garden, animals have rarely entered those dreams,except the vision of peaceful egg-laying chickens eating up the bugs and nibbling on discarded greens.


The animals that I've never daydreamed about are central to Novella Carpenter's urban farm. While showing touching respect and love for her animals, she also has the will to do them in when the time comes. I think that if one eats meat, she should have this ability--but reading first hand accounts of the actual process made me realize I just may not have the guts face my meat-eating in such a personal way. Though... I really do love chicken. Let's just leave it at this: I'll never view pruners in quite the same way again after reliving the fate of Novella's meat birds. Not to mention the fate of her rabbits and pigs. Her animals are not pets, and she makes it clear.


Every part of this book holds importance, even if the animal harvesting makes me a bit squirmy. Novella Carpenter is a living example of a true urban farmer, and her experiences and insight are priceless to anyone considering the endeavor.



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