Book Review: Farm City

Book Review: Farm City

Mar 13

Farm City paperback book coverOur dreams of one day raising layer hens and maintaining huge raised-bed gardens in our backyard has led us in search of a wide variety of resources. Urban farming is our current craze, and we are apparently not alone. This movement is taking root (pun intended) in large cities and urban areas around the country (but mostly on the West Coast), where inner city residents are converting their backyards or nearby abandoned lots into gardens and animal pens. From bees to swiss chard to pigs, people are once again experimenting with producing their own food in the city, and Novella Carpenter chronicles her experiences in Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.

After she and her boyfriend took up residence in a ramshackle house-converted-to-apartments on a dead-end street in Oakland, California, a city once ranked as the most murderous city in the US, she decided to convert an adjacent abandoned lot into her very own square foot garden. The success of that led her to try raising chickens, rabbits, bees, pigs and, eventually, goats, all in a neighborhood nicknamed Ghost Town for its abundance of abandoned buildings and crime.

Novella describes, in a rather impersonal way, her first attempts at slaughtering a turkey and a rabbit, her battles with local wildlife, her contributions to help the community, and her general persistence despite many setbacks. She manages to be both entertaining and informative, ending the book with a helpful bibliography of books about urban homesteading and gourmet cooking.

What I love most about this book is that it is filled with real-life encounters with food, and that Novella herself is a genuine farmer. Many farming stories derive from authors who are experimenting, or immersing themselves in a culture for the sake of writing a book. Other stories just describe a phase in the authors’ lives. Novella, on the other hand, has practiced urban farming in just about every city she’s lived in (even rainy, overcast Seattle), and still maintains her healthy farm in Oakland.

Photo of Novella CarpenterYou can see Novella talk about some of the anecdotes in the book, as well as offer her thoughts on urban gardening, in this video interview on

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