"Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer" Owes Me Sleep

I was at the library a few days ago and saw Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter on the shelf.

Novella was all over the urban homesteading blog world this spring when the City of Oakland kicked her in the proverbial nuts over her garden/mini-farm/oasis in the ghetto. She got slapped with thousands of dollars of permitting and licensing fees and there were some confusing threats of eviction.

It was a time of indignant outrage and surrogate fear for the urban homesteading community since Novella, along with Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, is about as close to celebrity as we get. (For awhile there was this one family in Pasadena, but they were unable to fulfill their celebrity urban homesteader duties and we had to take their Vegetable Princess crown away…but I digress.)

With Novella’s name and plight fresh in my memory, I snapped up Farm City and grabbed some couch time.

What a great read. Funny, poignant, honest, unapologetic and full of characters. I came away profoundly grateful to live in my sleepy little suburb and deeply touched by the human element in the book: the ghetto kid who wants to adopt a bunny; the homeless junk collector who can’t be quashed; the butcher who deserved to get run through her own meat grinder and the chef who helped Novella complete the circle of thoughtful food production.

Novella’s struggles to establish Ghost Town Farm aren’t glossed over. I won’t go into too many details for fear of spoiling the page turning, but there are struggles. Some are the kind I don’t run into much out here in suburbia – packs of wild dogs menacing my poultry, teenagers almost mugging me while I pick some roadside weeds. Some are so universal that any gardener can relate – produce that doesn’t produce, the mess of the productive home, neighbors who really don’t get it (and neighbors who help you out when you really need it).

This book was compelling enough to keep me up reading far, far too late. When I’m awake to see my sidetable alarm clock hit 1:00 a.m., I know the next day is going to suck. But I couldn’t help myself – I couldn’t put Farm City down. I figure Novella Carpenter owes me at least two good nights of sleep.

Have you read Farm City? If you haven’t, go reserve a copy at your local library. But maybe start reading it on a Friday so you have the weekend in case you need to sleep in a bit.


  1. says

    I <3 Farm City and I feel so lucky that I'm on "hugging-when-we-see-each-other" terms with Novella. She was actually the one that made me realize we're urban farmers just like how Willow from City Slickers taught her the term.

  2. says

    I loved, loved, loved Farm City – it was one of the great motivators that pushed me into the life of (sub)Urban Farming. In fact, I just re-read it recently because I miss hearing from Novella on her blog! It's high on my 'recommended reading' list for anyone and everyone.

  3. Tiffany Dyer says

    I just finished reading this yesterday! I was thinking about sending you a comment with the title, but I see that was unnecessary. I look forward to reading about how your pig husbandry goes. ;) I almost want to get rabbits just for the garden fertilizer….

  4. says

    Oh novella.
    I read farm city during my post-partum week almost two years ago. So, i had a good reason to just lay around reading. It was sheer bliss. Though possibly influenced by the bliss hormones of a newborn.
    I adore her raw, honest style. Her blog was the second one I ever read, after homegrown evolution. Too bad for us she doesn't blog much anymore. But maybe it's because she's working on another book?

  5. says

    A friend of ours through our preschool went to school with her, so she loaned me an autographed copy. Great read. After I finished I spent many sleepless hours reading years of her blog to see what happened next. Sorry to say it was RIGHT at the time she stopped blogging and had countless problems being a property owner. Insanity at it's height! Poor Novella. She rocks! I wish her well.

  6. says

    Thanks for the recommendation, I immediately checked my library and they had it on the shelf! I picked it up and am studiously avoiding reading it for the next three days. I decided it's going to be one of our read-alouds on our upcoming road trip.

  7. says

    I wanted to love Farm City. As a proud Oaklander, a farm girl at heart
    and a down to the roots DYI advocate – I thought this book would be a
    well worn favorite on my book shelf. Sadly, it left me cold. First -
    it made Oakland seem more hard and ghetto than it really is. I love
    Oakland – I live with-in 3 miles of Novella and I hated the picture
    she painted of our town. Oakland is not the wasteland she writes it to
    be. Oakland has experienced a ground swell of yard farmers (including
    myself) and has become a heated battleground on the topic of small
    scale meat farming. I hesitate to mention where I stand on the issue,
    because I worry it would muddy the waters of my comment – but
    Oakland’s Urban Farmers and Animal Advocates have launched a full
    scale, very ugly attack. Oakland Animal Services and City Council have
    both gone into high gear to try and ensure a balance between personal
    food and living choices and animal welfare. I hold Novella somewhat
    responsible for stirring the fires of these flames, given her very
    public blog posts on the subject. And – much like your recent post – I
    know all Oaklanders interested in healthy and delicious food need to
    stand together, not tear each other down legally and socially. I
    wanted to love Novella and hold out hope I still might be able to in
    the future.

  8. says

    Becca – thank you for your thoughtful comment! Not being an Oaklander I cannot speak to specifics, but I think it bodes well for the future of urban farming that people like yourself can disagree so reasonably and politely.

  9. says

    I also did a little dance of joy when I randomly saw this book on display at my local library last summer. It’s a fabulous, well written, and inspiring book. I hadn’t heard about all the permitting and licensing fees she was facing since I’m not local. Not cool. I now own the book and keep it where I can see it often, just to visually remind me of Novella and others who are trying to get real food more available to folks in urban areas and trying to get more people interested in growing their own food.

  10. JA says

    Farm City is still one of my all-time faves. Wish she had time to blog but human babies are darn time-consuming.

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