What's On an Urban Farm
Carpenter is as taken with the idea of eating local, fresh food from high quality sources as plenty of foodies, but she also had romantic tales of her parents short-lived subsistence farm in Idaho, a rural childhood filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden, and more skill and time than money. So she started growing her own food. First she planted a garden, built a chicken coop, and acquired a beehive. Then she ordered meat birds—ducks, geese, and turkeys – through the mail, and her farm was established. At that point in the book, with her wit and plucky nature shining through, you trust that Carpenter can do anything. She mourns murdered fowl, manages to kill her first animal for meat (a Thanksgiving turkey), and gets her neighbors involved and invested in the farm.
And then she buys the pigs. The reader roots for her but wonders: Is this a good idea? Others may come to a different conclusion, but I, for one, think it was a fabulous idea. What she—and by extension all who read the book—learn about raising greedy hungry animals and the relationships she forms in order to take care of the animals and then, when the time comes, process the animals into edible parts is inspiring, eye-opening, and just plain fascinating.
More Than a Farm Story
Farm City is no fairy-tale back-to-the-land storytelling. The land in this story is city dirt and raised beds on concrete slabs, junk yard dogs harvest some of the ducks for themselves, and the pigs frolic in a hay-strewn backyard feeding on whatever Carpenter and her boyfriend manage to find in the Dumpsters of Oakland's Chinatown, the East Bay's finest bakery, and Berkeley's swanky 4th St. A low moment—some may find it the lowest (I know I did)—in their farming education comes when a bag of fish guts they're scavenging from a Dumpster rips open, almost knocks them over with its smell, and a homeless man walking by tries to give them a dollar bill, figuring they must be worse off than he is.
Carpenter's humor, her ability to see the insane situation in which she has placed herself, her ability to get others excited about her farm, and her clear vision of exactly how and why her glasses get splattered with rotting fish guts make Farm City more than a memoir about local eating. It's a tale of a search for identity in a mobile society, a yearning for purpose in a consumerist throw-away economy, a quest for community in a seemingly anonymous city, and, yes, a desire to have the freshest, tastiest food possible.
Also see this Q&A With Novella Carpenter to learn about the background for the book and how Novella eats locally.