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Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  9,686 ratings  ·  1,444 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, US / CAN Edition, 276 pages
Published June 11th 2009 by Penguin Press (first published 2009)
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M Brian The book is available as an eBook; I was able to get it through my library system as an eBook so you should be able to do so as well.

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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  9,686 ratings  ·  1,444 reviews

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Jun 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, borrowed
I end up on the "it was OK" rating of two stars mostly because Novella simply rubs me the wrong way. She unfortunately comes off to me as someone with just a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude toward her neighbors and neighborhood, although it's difficult for me to pinpoint just how that attitude gets communicated to me. Many times the scenarios are humorous and the interactions zany in a good way. Yet when she confesses that it took her two years to get up the courage to walk off her dead end s ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Diane by: Michelle
I like reading gardening memoirs, even though I do not have a vegetable garden. As a farmer's granddaughter, I appreciate all of the hard work it takes to grow and raise food.

"Farm City" is an entertaining book about an urban farmer in Oakland, California, and she describes her neighborhood as being in the ghetto. At various times, Novella has kept chickens, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, geese, bees and even pigs in her backyard.* (I visited her blog, Ghost Town Farm, and saw she also had a goat.) Sh
Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it
I had fair warning: the sections of this book are named turkey, rabbit, and pig.

Still, I was willing to read about the killing and eating of animals because of the good things I'd heard.

The book is as much about living in the down-and-out part of Oakland and general D.I.Y. as much as urban farming. Carpenter's sense of humor is on target for the first half of the book, as is the charm in her descriptions of her neighbors, her farming projects, and even of the animals she keeps. She begins with v
Dec 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: animals
This was a painful read. The major problem of the book was summed up in the conclusion which is comprised of Carpenter's standard combination of hackneyed rhetoric, painfully ignorant social commentary, narcissism, and total inconsistency: In one breath she tells us that she has not changed the land, it has changed her, and in the next she tells us that perhaps she has altered the future of Oakland (so actually she thinks she has changed the land). She tells us that she has finally found her ide ...more
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
So, I read this book for the second time to try to give it another chance. I just WANTED to like it so much. The premise is something that is near and dear to my heart as I want to move from a heavy gardener to someone who is very deeply rooted in the farming scene. I grew up in a farming community and now live in the city, so shouldn't this book be right up my alley? The second try has confirmed, I hate this book. Maybe hate is a strong word, but who the hell told Novella to end her chapters wi ...more

I should throw it out there that I was so totally psyched to read this book. I've had it on my to-read list since I read a review of it in the Times or the Globe (can't remember which) two years ago. I have lived most of my adult life in a manner that keeps me from growing as much food as I would like, and the premise of this book compelled me. It's the story of the author's move to inner-city Oakland in order to farm a vacant lot next door to her apartment, and all t
Adele Stratton
May 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
(Audioversion) (Two and a half stars.) The story apparently sprang from her blog about how she moved to inner-city Oakland California and began growing her own food—moving quickly from fruits and vegetables, to bees, to meat-birds and rabbits, and finally to raising pigs—by squatting on a vacant inner-city lot, next to an apartment she rents. I had some mixed feelings about this one. The book is engaging, and there is a part of Carpenter that seems to have honorable intentions and a good heart. ...more
Tamara Taylor
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. The paralells between Novella's backyard city farm and my own rural spread are uncanny. Both of us are running a veritable shit show where things go wrong, animals are cavorting along public roadways, animals die...and yet neither of us can imagine a life doing anything else. Novella is my kind of gal. She's ballsy, hilarious, adventurous and kind. The people she encounters through her adventure are so genuinely bizarre. I adore her homeless "neighbour" Bobby and fe ...more
I'm pretty surprised at how highly this book has been rated and how many impressive blurbs (Michael Pollan, NYT Book Review, Oprah) it has received. I picked it up to read as a comp title for a narrative I'm working on now, and I thought about putting it down at least half a dozen times as I made my way through it. It took me at least the first third of the book to become invested, and even then I only stuck with it because I wanted to read it for comparison.

Basically I think Novella tries too
Aug 18, 2010 rated it liked it
I haven't been very good at sleeping lately, so for a while this is what I was reading in the middle of the night when I didn't want to think about anything or have any emotions. It's about a lady in Oakland who has a garden and some bees and chickens and ducks and turkeys and rabbits and pigs. Towards the end I realized she was giving away quite a bit of her eggs and honey and vegetables, and I wondered if maybe I ought to be a more generous person. As soon as I wondered this I fell asleep. Whe ...more
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the best memoir of urban farming I have ever read.

Novella relays her joys and hardships of farming in Oakland with enthusiasm, intelligence, candor and humor. Aside from growing vegetables and fruit, she merrily upgrades her stock from chickens and turkeys to rabbits finally ending at pigs.

I laughed so hard at the image of hauling pigs in the back of a station wagon! I'm thinking of making hubby Tal read it so he can realize that just chickens aren't so bad in comparison.

Farm City is
Jenn "JR"
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book -- the author's voice and personality shine through her writing very clearly. She seemed like a snotty, self-important, shrill and unbalanced person. I kept reading, hoping that the author would undergo some transformation that would redeem her, and thinking that perhaps she wasn't as self centered as she made herself sound -- but when it got to the section about how demanding and rude she was to the woman who butchered her pigs -- I realized: the author is just ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Novella can pull up a chair next to Cormac McCarthy and Clint Eastwood and sit at the all-time favorite badasses table.
Nov 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Novella Carpenter moved from rainy Seattle, WA to Oakland, CA. More accurately, she moved to Ghosttown, an especially rough part of Oakland where "tumbleweaves" roll across the abandoned lots. She took an apartment near an abandoned lot, and began a "squat garden," (illegal occupation of land you do not own for the purpose of growing plants). That squat garden grew into a squat farm, which grew into this book. The book is highly readable, often funny, and I was charmed by the author's perspectiv ...more
Sven Eberlein
Jun 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Farm City The Education of an Urban Farmer

There are people — in fact, the vast majority of Homo sapiens — who see and define their existence through the lens of what they do: Teachers, bus drivers, nurses, architects, accountants, and any number of professionals whose modus operandi is collectively understood and agreed upon. Then there are those who teeter along the edges of known and accepted ways of existence, their divine operating systems not quite programmed for vocational compatibility. S
May 19, 2010 rated it liked it
This book riveted me and intrigued me, even though I wasn't such a fan of its author. Even though she retains a dry, slightly detached perspective on her own life throughout the book, urban farmer Novella Carpenter comes across as kind of smug, especially when ranking on her "trustafarian" friends who yearn to be urban farmers too, despite the fact they have all the money in the world and no need for such a hobby.

To those trustafarians, I say: Farm on! Don't listen to your "friend" Novella. Whet
Jan 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
carpenter gets one star (she'd get none if that were an option), and I'll tell you why: because when you're this astoundingly uncritical - when you display zero signs of having ever thought about your place as an educated white person in a city with a bleak racial history - you don't get points for showing up. when I find myself summing up my opinion on this book as, "the parts that aren't racist are interesting," it's time to shut the whole thing down. I was excited to read a memoir about urban ...more
When my dentist recommended this book, I was delighted. It sounded like a fun and educational read, with a perspective different from my own. My family had a large (urban) garden when I was a kid. My gran and auntie had enormous gardens too, and they shared the harvest with us. We cellared, canned, and froze a good portion of our food. Being a silly kid, I thought everyone did this. Imagine my embarrassment when the neighbor's kids explained that mashed potatoes came from a box of flakes bought ...more
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best book I have read in ages, seriously. This is a story about a woman my age who started an urban farm deep in an Oakland ghetto, and the saga of going from bees to fowl to rabbits to pigs. She has a sardonic, witty tone that kept me right with her while she illuminated her awkward, sweaty, brutal, and difficult quest.

She really gets to the heart of what is important about food, and what is lacking in our food culture, without sounding preachy. She addresses the class issues of local/fresh
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: from-the-library
When the author wasn't describing the ways in which she killed & maimed her livestock, I really enjoyed (most of) this book. To build and share a farm on an abandoned lot in Oakland is a remarkable, awe-inspiring thing. But I wanted to pull the author aside and say, "Listen. You're charming, you spin a compelling little yarn, but I have some pointers. First, stop using 'ghetto' as shorthand for poor, black, and urban. It's a blanket term that is totally devoid of nuance and complexity, and it al ...more
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
On one hand, the book is entertaining and informative (I would love to be more self-sustainable and grow my own food). On the other, the way she treats her farm animals is often horrifying, especially how she takes care of the rabbits. As a rabbit owner, it made my skin crawl to read her happy indifference to their health and well-being (for example rabbits should NEVER eat bread), all so that she could have a tasty meal at the least expense and effort. The author is incredibly smug and though s ...more
Feisty Harriet
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food-industry
I appreciate the idea of growing some things wherever you are, whether that's a large rural farm or a urban ghetto. However. Carpenter is super holier-than-thou and fairly inconsiderate of others, which when you are adjacent to families is kind of a neighborly necessity. Chickens are smelly. Pigs are REALLY smelly. And fishing around in dumpsters for things to feed said chickens and pigs's not something I want to replicate. A vacant lot I could turn into a huge garden? Now, that w ...more
I'm going to try and keep this short... so I don't end up ranting unnecessarily. After my last review of a memoirish type book actually being read by the author and commented upon, I feel a bit more, well, exposed.

I'm betting if I met Novella she'd be a nice enough girl. And her writing isn't bad at all. It just, isn't... my cup of tea. And this surprised no one more than me (except my husband). After all, from the moment we fell in love I've been confiding dreams of chickens and farming. He ju
Bob Redmond
Aug 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bees, food-and-farms
Why is this book excellent?

First, it's a story worth telling. Carpenter transcends the "personal essay/memoir" genre by focusing on the story, rather than herself as narrator. Daughter of rural hippies lives in the Oakland ghetto and ends up raising bees, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigs, and a complete garden.

Second, it's excellently written. The egoless approach to memoir is relevant here as well. She focuses on the story and the action, with the perfect amount of context, asides, humor,
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you are romanticising farming, on any scale, you should read this. There's also a great interview with Novella on Vimeo from CHOW (HERE. You should watch that if you aren't sure about reading the book.

Novella Carpenter has always dabbled in farming in some way, but she goes whole hog in Oakland (pun totally intended). She starts out pretty small with a vegetable garden, some chickens, adds some geese and turkeys, bees, rabbits, then pigs. She loves her animals, but not like pets. Maybe a litt
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Because I have a secret desire to turn my front yard into a vegetable garden, I loved the brazen confidence with which the author tackles becoming an urban farmer - complete with chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and even pigs. I didn't particularly care for the author's writing style (I found it a little bit annoying; I'm still not exactly sure why), but the story was so interesting and informative that it didn't matter. Novella Carpenter's memoir of urban farming in Berkley, California addresses sev ...more
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
My fiance's been reading a lot about permaculture and urban farming lately, and while I appreciate the idea of self grown organic produce, I haven't been too motivated to read into it myself. But he insisted I read Farm City, Carpenter's account of squat gardening and raising livestock in inner city Oakland, and I'm so glad he did. She explains how she grew vegetables and fruit trees, as well as raised turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and even pigs over the course of several years. At on ...more
May 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
i dont know why this woman believes she ISN'T part of the gentrification of oakland, or why she doesn't go back to Seattle, Idaho or wherever and leave the "second rate city" to those who regard it positively. i came to this book open minded, even knowing that the author is an animal farmer, which i really don't feel is the best use of urban farming space, among other concerns. i couldn't have been more disappointed with the negative descriptions of oakland, possibly employed to make her urban f ...more
Jun 13, 2020 rated it did not like it
Uggh, a book of excuses for why the author thinks it’s good to eat meat. Who is Novella Carpenter trying to convince, exactly? Not me, certainly. I suspect herself.

You know, when *I* was 16, like Carpenter, I also was a failed vegetarian. Ate veg for maybe a year, then on a road trip decided to make an exception for fish, soon vegetarianism faded away. Like her, I subsisted on crap. She says she ate cheese sandwiches. My guess is that it was on white bread. I think back then I was eating mostly
Erica T
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
About 8 or 9 years ago I came across a blog while blog hopping called French Toast France (or something like that). It was the life of a family living in France in a very rustic manner. I was intrigued. I began following the blog and learning about their fishing, foraging, and bartering. While obsessively enjoying this blog I found the author had a sister with a blog about her urban farm in California. I began reading it as well. I became consumed with the idea of living off the land and began p ...more
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Novella Carpenter grew up in rural Idaho and Washington State. She majored in biology and English at the University of Washington in Seattle. While attending Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she studied under Michael Pollan for two years. Her urban farm began with a few chickens, then some bees, until she had a full-blown farm near downtown Oakland.

Author photo courtesy of author website.

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