It wasn’t until I read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer for the second time that I really grasped the enormity of Novella Carpenter’s drive to prove herself as a farmer, which, at times she says, felt like “the mission of an imbecile.”
It’s hard to imagine a more unconventional – or difficult - way of carving out an existence for oneself: a squatter on land in an urban neighborhood that initially doesn’t feel safe. But it turns out the garbage strewn lot next to her apartment and Oakland’s “down and out qualities” are just right for Carpenter and her boyfriend, Bill, to put down roots of all kinds.
The rollicking good ride we get to go on with Carpenter includes massive slug extermination in which the slimy, primitive creatures are ripped in two and then squished between boards (this is organic gardening, after all), prolifically pooping poultry, bees, pigs, rabbits, dumpster diving and scrounged stuff from street corners. Carpenter possesses a love of making something useful again, which she describes as “resurrecting the abandoned.” The folks we meet come to life on the page: Lana (“anal spelled backwards”), monks, men that live in wheelless parked cars. The farm changes the neighborhood and the author. Against odds and convention, Carpenter not only exists, but she thrives.
I can’t wait to meet her this week!
~ Donna McClurkan, Reading Together Steering Committee
This spring we are inspired by two books that explore the journey of food from farm to table – whether that farm is a large operation fueled by the efforts of migrant workers or something that starts as simply as a personal devotion turning a nearby urban patch into a garden.
Novella Carpenter’s memoir Farm City shows how in small steps we can start something simple and transform it into something greater than ourselves. Her experience of growing beyond the garden to include raising animals on a small scale in an urban space is the inspiration behind upcoming programs such as Raising Animals for Food and The Farming Life. People’s Food Co-op will offer a Cooking Demonstration using fresh and local ingredients. Beyond Food for Thought will bring together a variety of people sharing how they turned small ideas gleaned here and there into life-changing actions; and we’ve also planned how-to’s on Container Gardening and a Farmers Market 101 where you can learn how to select produce and build relationships with local farmers.
As a journalist, Tracie McMillan goes undercover in The American Way of Eating to reveal the journey of food produced and distributed en masse until reaching its final destination on our plate. Her writing encouraged us to learn more about local stories and challenges of food and as a result, our community has come together in collaboration to present and offer to you The Farmworker Story as told by former farmworkers who advocate for safe and dignified working conditions. The Center for Health Equity will open dialog about Food Security or Food Justice: Does it Really Matter? We also have a Midday Film Series of three food documentaries; and we look forward to sharing the Midwestern food experience with authors Peggy Wolff and Bonnie Jo Campbell.
In addition to a grand variety of “side” program selections to choose from, our plate would not be complete without the main dishes: the Reading Together Committee is proud to present to you About the Author programs, where you will be able to meet and hear firsthand the experiences from each of our featured authors Novella and Tracie.
Our Kalamazoo Community will undoubtedly have plenty of food for thought throughout this season, and we look forward to reading, learning, and sharing food ideas (and food!) with you!
~ Jessica L. Enget, Reading Together Steering Committee
Associate Librarian, Portage District Library
I can’t say I’ve ever lived next door to someone attempting to live as Novella Carpenter does at Ghost Town Farms, i.e., raising not only vegetables but also animals for food.
I imagine the challenges for both the farmer and the neighbor are both complex and sensitive, and I was particularly interested to read about this unfortunate situation in Minnesota.
Minn. urban farm sows some unhappiness