Tag Archives: organic farming

“Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter

Penguin Press, 2009, 269 pages.

This book presents a striking contrast to “The Good Food Revolution – Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” by Will Allen, which I reviewed on January 29, 2015.

For starters, Allen farms in chilly Milwaukee, whereas Carpenter lives in sunny southern California. Allen is incredibly systematic and diligent, and good at using “the system” to get grants and organize groups. Carpenter is eccentric, rebellious and individualistic. Both manage to raise food in a city setting. Each has a progressive to liberal/radical political agenda. Other than that, they have little in common.

Carpenter did not own the urban land she farmed, describing herself as a squatter. She lived, by choice, in a neighborhood most of us would never consider – violent and poverty stricken, a marginal community full of marginalized, struggling people. To her, sharing was an integral part of being an urban farmer. She gated but did not lock her garden, and rarely interfered with people who helped themselves to her produce. She scavenged extensively, often in the dumpsters behind restaurants.

But these two farmers share a vision of a highly altered urban landscape, and I consider most of the changes they advocate to be highly desirable from an environmental point of view.

One of Carpenter’s especial goals was to raise meat on her urban farm, and the book plots her passage from poultry to rabbits to pigs. She raised two hogs (not pigs, but full sized hogs). Her monetary investment was minor, but the labor of feeding the fast growing hogs on dumpster sourced food sounded overwhelming. I wonder if she did it again.

One reason I can’t imagine living Carpenter’s life style if that it seems overwhelmingly dirty. She kept poultry in her apartment, rabbits on her deck, pigs beside her building.

Both Carpenter and Allen are well worth reading. I would love to see both cities and suburbs producing food (and flowers!) and supporting birds and other wildlife.

“The Town that Food Saved – How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food” by Ben Hewitt.

I’m posting this in honor of the First Annual Tour de Farm New Jersey. Someone forwarded me an e-mail about this event, and I realized that the cyclists would pass through my township, stopping at Sahl Farm which is two miles east of my home. What is the Tour de Farm? It’s a bicycle tour intended to support NJ agriculture and learn about New Jersey farming. The tour was supposed to get to Sahl Farm at 4 pm. I got there – not much was happening. I chatted with the farmer and then with the driver of the “sag wagon”, the vehicle that saves the day if bikes break down or muscles fail to cooperate.

Our conversation wandered to Vermont, and I mentioned the book which is the subject of this post. I read it in August of 2010. My thoughts at that time…

Very scary book. I never watched Al Gore’s A Simple Truth, but I would say this is on a par with it.

We could have a food crisis.

We have seen the price of gas run wild, the housing market implode and unemployment soar. Yes, our ‘food system’ could get messed up.

Should I stockpile food?

There’s lots more to this book. The town of Hardwick, Vermont, has struggled with loss of industry and the difficulty of farming Vermont’s rocky hills. One Amazon reviewer says the book “…made me think — really think — about reasonable scale and the importance of pulling local food down from its elite and expensive status”.

Lately I’m hearing lots of buzz about organic farming and local food. I may give this book a second read.