Sunday, July 12, 2009

Novella Carpenter's city farm

My sister Justine and I both recently read and loved the book Farm City in which author Novella Carpenter describes her funny and inspiring adventures raising vegetables, bees, chicken, bunnies and pigs on the empty lot next door to her apartment in an Oakland, California ghetto.

This morning, Justine and I decided to find her farm, which turned out to be disappointingly easy given that Carpenter has published the address on her blog. We love us a good sleuthing mission and this did not test our well-honed skills. We could tell you stories . . .

The place was literally just off a monster freeway. Not a great neighborhood, lots of boarded up windows and stray shopping carts. But not entirely awful. There were families around doing ordinary Sunday things, like walking home from church and washing the car. No sign of Carpenter. It felt wrong to just barge into someone else's garden, but the gate was open and bore a welcome sign, so we did. 

It was a mess -- but wonderful.  I think my lame photo up top just captures the mess. You have to trust me, the ramshackle, pell-mell abundance was beautiful to behold, with peach and avocado trees and scarlet runner beans and trees full of figs and unripe apples all higgledy piggledy with tomatoes and chard and zucchini and artichokes. We also saw one chicken and a few cages of bunnies.
And, of course, there were bee hives. I have to say, Carpenter's bees seemed a little lethargic compared to mine. I wonder if the one of the hives is defunct.

I absolutely love this kind of place, always have, and don't know precisely why. I can't say my reasons are purely noble; they're not grounded in concerns about sustainability or protesting Nabisco or anything high-minded like that. Or at least not completely. It just makes me so incredibly happy when I see a much-loved, food-growing garden, especially one with animals. That this one sits in the middle of a gritty neighborhood makes it all the more magical.


  1. I have to confess I have blown off my book group's books to read Farm City and have loved it I cannot even grow mint in my yard and am thrilled when hostas don't die, so these things are magical to me too. I'm loving the book and your pictures are great! Though I cringe to think of the fate of those bunnies. Thanks for the book tip and fun followup post!

  2. I'm so glad! I found it to be a page-turner.

  3. Back to a previous post, I just rented the movie "Secret Life of Bees." I liked it, but it bugged me how fake the peach trees looked!!

  4. AzureSong,

    I know! Isn't there a scene where she walks by a vegetable garden and it's filled with fake corn?

  5. Exactly! I actually paused the DVD and turned to my husband and said, "How hard would it be really to transplant some real corn?!!" But then I started thinking, maybe it would be hard. Hmmm.

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