If you liked Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my guess is that you will love Novella Carpenter's new book, Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer. I found it to be both grittier and funnier than Kingsolver's book and even easier to read.
The book chronicles Novella's somewhat unintentional experience of creating a "squat garden" in the vacant lot next to her apartment building in Ghost Town, which is what she and the other residents call their rundown neighborhood located near downtown Oakland.
Novella starts small (vegetables) but ends up with bees, goats (see the photo from Novella's blog below of Eyore, one of the adorable baby goats that was born recently), chickens, ducks, rabbits, geese, turkeys and even two pigs! Along the way, she and her boyfriend Billy befriend their new neighbors -- a motley crew including Bobby, a homeless man who sleeps in an abandoned car on their block, a woman named Lana ("it's 'anal' spelled backwards," Lana points out when she first meets them) who runs a speakeasy out of her apartment, and a temple-full of Vietnamese monks.
She also makes new friends including Willow, the pioneering urban farmer who started City Slicker Farms and a much-lauded local chef (Chris Lee of Eccolo in west Berkeley) who teaches her to turn the two pigs she and Billy raise entirely on scraps from green bins throughout Chinatown and from food foraged from local dumpsters into delicious handcured meats.
Along with the journey from gardener to urban farmer, Novella takes us soul-searching on topics like the divisions between races, classes, and rural and urban dwellers, what it means to be a carnivore, and how raising your own animals for food changes that dynamic. All the while, she pours her heart into growing something green, beautiful and nourishing that feeds not only her and Billy but their friends and neighbors in Ghost Town, as well.
Novella attended UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism (where studied under Michael Pollan) and her training as a journalist has not gone to waste. Her writing is excellent -- evocative, quirky, funny and brutally honest. My interest in her story never waned and I even found myself laughing aloud at times as I read.
Give Farm City a read -- I don't think you'll regret it. The book goes on sale Thursday, June 11th.
You can keep up with Novella's adventures at her blog -- Ghost Town Farm.