Review: Farm City by Novella Carpenter // Genuinely Urban Experience


“Putting up food is, at its heart, an optimistic thing. It’s a bold way to say: I will be sticking around.” – Farm City, Novella Carpenter, p. 143

Unlike other urban food narratives, such as Unprocessed by Megan Kimble, Farm City is genuinely written with an inner-city experience. Carpenter moves into yet another apartment but this time, it’s in a ghetto in Oakland, California, neighboring an empty plot beckoning her name. The writer works multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet and one of her best friends is a homeless man who hoards items on her street. After having a gun pulled on her by a tween, Novella Carpenter contemplates the systemic racism in her city and reaches out to a local Black Panther association that helps underprivileged youth.

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Carpenter only was able to plant more than a couple tomato plants because she used an empty lot that couldn’t sell due to being located in a ghetto and whose owner was kind enough to allow her to continue. Carpenter could only raise animals in her backyard without paying for proper permits because her landlord was an immigrant who came from a land where urban farming was the norm. Carpenter could only feed her animals due to the generosity of city dumpsters — and the owners who caught her dumpster diving. Time and again, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer highlights that Novella Carpenter wasn’t able to fulfill her desire to grow her own food in spite of her urban life but because of the people and opportunities available to the poor in a city environment.

In this way, Novella Carpenter is realistic that poverty which holds back many from the idyllic country farm can be addressed by looking to the strengths available from a city community. Instead of attacking the city that provides for her and her farm, Carpenter embraces it graciously.

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If you love the city, in all its wonders and faults, this is the urban farming book for you. Carpenter holds no notions of moving to the country someday. The city is the home for her farm and her farm is her home. Even if that means abandoning years of work when the apartment lease is up and starting all over again.

Check out Carpenter’s blog, Ghost Town Farm!

Urban and rural collide in this wry, inspiring memoir of a woman who turned a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm

Novella Carpenter loves cities-the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can’t shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Ambivalent about repeating her parents’ disastrous mistakes, yet drawn to the idea of backyard self-sufficiency, Carpenter decided that it might be possible to have it both ways: a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, concerts, and a twenty-four-hour convenience mart mere minutes away. Especially when she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop.

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