I recently finished reading a fascinating book by Novella Carpenter titled Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. When I picked it up at the library, I assumed it would be kind of like a textbook on Urban Farming. I didn’t bother reading the summery or anything because I liked the font on the cover, so I knew it would be good. Haha.
As it happens, it’s a memoir tracking Novella’s evolution as an urban farmer in inner-city Oakland, CA. She recounts her experiences starting a squat garden on a vacant lot abutting her apartment, then setting up a beehive, getting chickens which organically led to raising her own meat birds and rabbits– and eventually raising and butchering pigs! All of this, done on 100 yards of land in the ghetto.
While her narrative is still very highly informative, Novella paints beautifully intimate and colorful portraits of the other inhabitants on her street, which imbues her memoir with surprising depth and humanity. Her colloquial writing style really appealed to me and made the book an extremely enjoyable read. That, mixed with her candor, made me feel like I was experiencing the ups and downs of urban farm life right along side her. It also empowered me to see in myself the potential to accomplish something similar. By the end of the book, I was raring to try my hand at serious homesteading. I’m still on a goal-making high from it, and Buck (my husband) seems to be getting a kick out of it
I think the biggest thing I took away from this book was the idea of being truly thankful for your food–meat, in particular. I eat meat sparingly for several different reasons, one of which being that I just feel like having such a large amount of it available has made it a bigger part of the average American diet than it needs to be. (These are my personal thoughts, and I don’t project them onto anyone else.)
Following Novella’s journey through investing in, feeding, housing, protecting, then ultimately sacrificing, carefully dressing, preparing and storing the meat from her animals gave me a very deep appreciation for the process. While consuming animal meat has never presented any issue for me (as I believe that human nourishment is one of the reasons they’re around), I could never imagine actually having to dispatch the animal myself. Being able to see the process through Novella’s eyes has helped me to better understand the role that raising animals for food played before it became a product of mass production. Animals were carefully and lovingly tended to. It took time and patience and when the time came to end the animal’s life, it was a sacrifice regarded with respect and gratitude. As an expression of that respect and gratitude, every part of the animal was used–nothing went to waste. Care was taken in preparing and preserving everything. That animal’s gift was cherished and savored.
I want that connection to my food. I want to know more intimately the work that goes into it’s growth and preparation. I want to feel that depth of gratitude and respect for the life-sustaining gifts that we have been given. Novella Carpenter’s memoir has inspired me to act on these desires!
Here’s an excerpt where Novella talks about finding out that her turkeys were a heritage breed. It illustrates the illuminating and conversational writing style that I mentioned before, and it has one of my favorite lines from the book:
These Heritage breeds aren’t eaten much anymore. Slow Food blamed my turkeys’ distant cousin twice removed, the Standard White. Turkey breeders in the 1950s wanted a standardized bird, one that grew quickly and finished with a uniform size that would mesh perfectly with new mechanical pluckers that had been developed. With careful breeding of heritage stock, they arrived at the Standard White. Over the years, the breed has been further engineered to do well indoors, and the breasts have plumped up enormously. On a strict feeding regimen, a Standard White takes just two months before he’s ready to eat. He’s a meat-growing machine on two-legs.
My heritage turkeys, on the other hand, were growing slowly–it would take six months for them to develop fully.
The difference in taste, according to the Slow Food book, makes it worth the wait. Firm, extraordinarily dark meat. More delicious breasts and thighs. They might be happier, too: The Slow Food book reported that heritage turkeys, unlike Standard Whites, can indeed mate naturally.
My turkeys were heritage as hell, I told myself as I slobbered over the book. And the fact that they could have sex was somehow wonderful news.
Don’t you want to hang out with her? Everyone, read this book!
***As I perused the internet for a better photo than the one I took of this book, I stumbled upon her blog! She mentions it a few times in the book, but since it’s a few years old I didn’t think to look for it. Looks like she’s still posting to it, so I’m looking forward to checking it out!