SAN FRANCISCO — “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter was published in 2009. Written before urban farming became quite so chic, this novel engages the reader from the first page of the text. In fact, Novella Carpenter may be the Laura Ingalls of many readers’ adult lives.
Carpenter’s almost Dada-esque tale of life and farming (yes, farming) in quiet, under-used but filmic parts of Oakland, California, rolls out an open-eyed high noon fest. She could carve a unique space in the reading life of anyone who has even touched a book in the past forty years.
She chronicles pig-rearing and bee-keeping on urban plots she squats just because she can. Her neighbors rise up like clip art from a fantastical array of characters that would remain flat – completely – in almost any other text.
But from the pig-slaughtering Northern California bleached blond with a heart of steel to her neighbor across the street who just doesn’t happen to live in a house, Carpenter, I would argue, remodels our very souls with her uncanny vision of what is possible in urban America today.
Thomas Jefferson would love this book. It speaks to the hope and vision of those who really make change — who see urban “blight” and see flowers and pigs and Italian salame by the armful.
A dumpster diving diva who gleefully raids upscale east bay restaurants for choice morsels with which to fatten her porcine charges, Carpenter’s literary skill coupled with her own inheritance of “living off the land” while a kid in the seventies will consistently challenge borders within one’s brain one did not even know exist.
She cross-hatches the neighborhoods of the reader’s consciousness with swarming bees and then uses honey to finish off the project.Ma and Pa would see a kindred spirit in Novella Carpenter’s kind of anarchic creativity. She would earn a choice seat in the sod cabin, scarfing up Ma’s hotcakes with butter and syrup, wiping her mouth and asking for seconds.
Grab this book and I guarantee, you will be up nights until Carpenter’s indigo charm and chutzpah has knocked your socks
Allison Addicott is a writer, editor, and award-winning speaker. Raised in numerous places around the country, she has lived in: San Diego, Del Mar (Ca.),Virginia, Honolulu, Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco and Berkeley. She holds a BA from UC Berkeley, an M.Div. from the Graduate Theological Union, and has done PhD work at both Drew University (NJ) and the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley). Currently, Allison is the editor of The Addicott Journal. She also serves as a Managing Editor at The Washington Times Communities where she oversees some 85+ writers.
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. 276 pages. The Penguin Press. 2009
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