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Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer Paperback – May 25, 2010
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Urban and rural collide in this wry inspiring memoir of a woman who turned a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm The New York Times Book Review Dominique Browning easily the funniest weirdest most perversely provocative gardening book I ve ever read I couldn t put it down Carpenter s tone is clear relaxed and amiable
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Okay, minor points you might say. But that's only in the first 30 pages. And this book was published by The Penguin Press, a major publisher. I know the publishing industry is on hard times, but c'mon, don't they have any editors or even copy editors any more?
It's so sloppy it makes me wonder if the entire account is fiction. Which would be fine, except it's billing itself as a true story.
I mean, she describes her community in the ghetto with compassion and humor (describing the "tumbleweeds" as "tumbleweaves").
I've been meaning to buy the book at one of our local stores, at one of Novella's book tour readings, but my availability did not intersect with her schedule. And so I ordered the book off Amazon-but for as long as I waited to buy her tome, I wasted no time in cracking it open and settling in for what turned out to be an absorbing, delightful, educational reading of a book that drips with optimism and moxie in a world that has in recent months, gone dark and brooding.
Novella has a farm. She has a farm on an abandoned lot in a part of Oakland nicknamed "Ghost Town," near the freeway and BART tracks. I've visited her farm and was astonished on my first visit to discover an oasis in a part of town that is not a destination site for many-most people drive past it on the freeway, ride past it on BART, there are very few grocery stores, and abandoned lots are many. Like the Valley of Ashes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. But on her street corner, behind a chain link fence, is a lot full of green vegetables and myriad fruits, with a quiet symphony of animal noises.
The farm is serious work, with its share of tragedy: some of her birds die at the mercy of wild neighborhood dogs. Because the abandoned lot on which she squats and plants the garden is purposely unlocked, sometimes others come by and harvest things without permission. (This, she takes in stride-it's not "her" land and she willingly shares the harvest). A farm, rural or urban, is not a perfect fairytale. Nature is unpredictable-but rewarding and complex, too.
When Novella's animals are slaughtered (by her or, rarely, by a third party), it is not a heartless act but a very complex one; sad, respectful, awful, spiritual, and ultimately, pragmatic.
When she buys pigs at auction, unsure of what "Barrow" or "Gilt" might mean, she asks a boy, "Does G mean `girl'?" The way she describes the boy's reaction, "He looked at me as if he might fall over from the sheer power of my enormous idiocy. Then he nodded, so stunned by my stupidity he couldn't speak," is so full of humility and frank humor that I was bowled over as a reader. I laughed out loud. (lol to you). Most writers in the foodie/food realm are so pompous and full of themselves, that I was truly delighted and charmed by Novella here.
I'm always interested in novel structure, and I took a quick look at how Novella structured Farm City: Rabbit, Turkey, Pig. (Those who read her blog know she has added goats to her farm in recent years).
The book is written, more or less, chronologically-because Novella really did start with rabbits, moving on to turkeys, and then pigs. But I still found the livestock-centric structure interesting and effective because yes, to a farmer life and time revolves around the livestock at hand.
The book is on Oprah's list of 25 books to read this summer, and deservedly so.
And one more thing: a tagger is a vandal who has no respect for other people's property, not a "grafitti artist", as Carpenter so admiringly puts it.
So would I want this woman as my neighbor? Maybe yes when she grew her vegetable garden. But when the turkeys, pigs, et al came into the neighborhood, that would be the time to call the cops.