When writer Novella Carpenter and her boyfriend moved from the suburbs of Seattle to the inner city of Oakland, Calif., the idea of creating an “urban farm” in one of the most blighted places in America seemed crazy. But in her funny, endlessly fascinating memoir Farm City, Carpenter describes how she turned every assumption about the relationship between city-dwellers and their food upside down.
From beekeeping and “squat-gardening” in a vacant lot to keeping chickens and pigs in her backyard, Carpenter takes a personal journey informed by her history as a child of hippie homesteaders. Though her gardening and livestock-raising—and eventually, a month-long project to see if she can consume only what she produces herself—is a personal political statement, it also becomes social action in a community where the nearest market selling fresh produce is more than two miles away.
What emerges from this journal is a multifaceted read that’s nearly impossible to put down: Part portrait of a wounded but proud neighborhood; part journey through the history of urban farming; part attempt to bridge the distance, both physical and psychological, between food production and consumption. When she paints portraits of her turkeys and pigs rich with personality—even as she plans to turn them into dinner—it’s a daring act of forcing readers to confront the reality that Thanksgiving dinner was once a living creature, and presenting the job of raising that food with abiding respect.
Join Carpenter for a lecture sure to bring a little “loco” to the “locavore” movement.