Reading Together

Food for Thought:
The Reading Together 2014 Blog

That’s a Wrap!

Several weeks have passed since Novella Carpenter was in town as the final event of Reading Together 2014. During that time, we have been busy collecting statistics, photos, and feedback about this year’s program.

For instance, did you know:

  • The two titles circulated more than 3,500 times since they were announced late last summer
  • Reading Together brought more than 1,600 people out into the community between early March and mid-April to talk about Farm City and The American Way of Eating
  • 100%  of survey respondents believe that Reading Together is valuable for our community

Of course, we’ve always believed that last point to be true, but these results affirm it. And it won’t be long before we start the process all over again to select a title (or titles?) for Reading Together 2015. Have a suggestion? Use the Contact link to the right and let us know!

Until next year,


A Note from Novella Carpenter

We’ve just received this photo and a note, transcribed below, from Novella about her visit to Kalamazoo...

Thanks again for the good times in Kalamazoo!  

What I really loved about K:
1. It felt like home; everyone there was so welcoming and down to earth. It was like meeting old friends. 

2. Conversation. You guys know how to ask questions, be honest, and you all are so curious! It’s an amazing & rare thing these days. 

3. Places that matter. I was only in ‘Zoo for one night but got to experience a lot—the Food Co-op, Tabitha Garden and the Art Museum/KIA, and the food trucks on the square, and of course, the Library and K College campus—these are all awesome, beautiful, functional, fun, accessible places where the town can grow and thrive. 

Anyway, I had a blast—thanks for the opportunity and I’m telling my friends about Kalamazoo! 

Love, Novella (and Franny) 



Novella and Franny

The Enormity of Novella Carpenter’s Drive

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


Farm City

Sustainability at Western Michigan University

As I read The American Way of Eating and Farm City, I became curious about the use of local foods and sustainability at Western Michigan University. This led me to investigate what was happening in the way of sustainable food practices at WMU. What follows is a brief summary of what I learned.

Dining Services

The Dining Services web pages are filled with information on local food sources and initiatives to reduce waste in the dining halls. These pages also take users to a map of regional farmer’s markets, lists of recyclables, and an introduction to the Food Diversion Initiative. The latter was started in 2011 as a sustainable way to reuse pre-consumer vegetable and fruit waste. Rather than removing the waste through garbage disposals or to landfills, the Food Diversion Initiative collects the food waste in large bins which are picked up and returned on a regular basis by Bearfoot Farms. The farm uses this waste to feed their pigs or make compost to enrich their soil.  At the Dining Services web site there is a video explaining and demonstrating these process for you. To date, WMU is the only one of the 15 Michigan state universities to be practicing sustainability at this level.

Office of Sustainability

Many readers may be familiar with the building at the southeast corner of Howard and W. KL Avenue that used to house the University Bookstore. It is now the WMU Office of Sustainability. I received a tour of the facility, learned about the history of the Office of Sustainability, and about several student projects it supports. In April 2010 the Student Garden Organization with the assistance of the University’s landscape services, community gardeners, and Tillers International began the Stadium Drive Community Garden project, a well thought-out and designed vegetable garden. This project was very visible to those driving or walking by the intersection of Howard Street and Stadium Drive. In 2011, those who shared in the work of the garden had grown about 800 pounds of food.

About this same time, The Office of Sustainability was working with student interns to plan, plant, and harvest the vegetable garden at The Gibbs House on Parkview Ave. The Gibbs House provided a program that allowed students from several disciplines to experiment with native and edible plants. Produce from this garden was sold at a farm stand manned by students, canned, distributed to local food banks, or donated to WMU Catering Services. The total yield of produce from this garden in 2011 and 2012 was over 2,500 pounds. In 2013 the garden at The Gibbs House was closed to make room for a new industrial venture on the Parkview campus, it was decided that more garden space could be created near the Stadium Drive Community Garden.

Gardens are not the only projects supported by the Office of Sustainability. Non-motorized transportation, recycling, aquaponics, bee keeping, and vermiculture are among the other interests of the Office of Sustainability. To learn more about this forward-thinking WMU office, view this slideshow annual report.   For those interested in working with the Office of Sustainability, part-time student jobs, assistantships, internships, and volunteer opportunities are available. The Office of Sustainability also sponsors events for the greater Kalamazoo community.

Dietetics and Food Service Administration Programs

Within the department of Family and Consumer Sciences are the Dietetics and Food Service Administration programs. Students electing to study Dietetics or Food Service Administration are involved with food processing at all levels of production.

Students graduating from the Dietetics program can apply for an internship with an emphasis in Sustainable Food Systems. Dietetic interns complete a series of six rotations selected from 25-30 sites. Interns in this program also spend four weeks in a school system working with the food service manager. Once a month the students meet on campus and take a field trip to a local sustainable food location in the Kalamazoo area such as the Kellogg Dairy Farm, Can-Do Kitchen, and the People’s Food Co-op.

The undergraduate major in Food Service Administration was recently revised and starting in Fall 2014 will include an emphasis on sustainable food systems. Students will take three courses that focus on food and sustainability. The first is an introductory course, followed by courses that consider local farm-to-table initiatives and global food systems and sustainability. The revisions to this major are intended to prepare food service professionals to be competent in current trends in the field, including a growing interest in sustainable food practices.

For those considering a career in sustainable food dietetics or food service administration, go to the department’s informative web page.

There is so much to learn about sustainable food practices. Western Michigan University is a great place to start! I am pleased to say that sustainable food practices are alive and well on the campus where I have spent the past 16 years of my career.

~ Miranda Howard, Reading Together Steering Committee
Head of Technical Services, University Libraries, WMU


Western Michigan University Community Garden

Inspired by Two Books

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 

Good Conversation

Interest is building in Reading Together especially for the first book, The American Way of Eating. Three times already this week as I was out and about, people have mentioned the book to me…. they are just reading it, their book group will be discussing it, they are looking forward to the author visits.

One book group I know of, discussed both titles this week. I hear there was good conversation and comments that food is a good theme for this year. They appreciated reading two related books.

My book group will talk about The American Way of Eating later this week over dinner at a local restaurant. Usually we meet in someone’s home, so this will be a treat. I’m sure it will be good conversation over good food. We’ll talk about Farm City in March.


The American Way of Eating

Do urban farmers make good neighbors?

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