By Dani Greer
I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.
Those are the first lines in Novella Carpenter’s urban memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Her “farm”, which was actually a 4,500 s.f. abandoned lot in Oakland that sat next to the shabby Victorian apartment she first rented in 2005, became the stage for her experiences. It may not sound ideal to most of us, but it was a huge success and not just because it bloomed into a national bestselling book.
Plucky and often laugh-out-loud funny, Novella Carpenter shares not only stories of hauling manure into her raised beds, but dumpster diving from restaurants to feed her pigs, and sharing the bounty with neighbors — sometimes strangers helping themselves, other times a homeless man living in a car, or a monk in the monastery across the street. Planted among the rows of vegetables are laughter and tears, friendships and failures, all the stuff of living. To say her life is stranger than fiction is an understatement, but every word of it rings true and fascinating to the very last sentence. Beyond being just a great read, this book is packed with important information about raising food, and she outlines with razor-sharp insight just how bad we are at taking care of ourselves. The lower we live on the economic scale, the harder it is to provide our own food.
We are all hard-pressed to feed ourselves should the need arise, and most of us don’t even augment our purchased foodstuffs with a few homegrown vegetables from the garden. When we do, it’s usually a short-lived project. We buy some bedding plants at a nursery, along with pots, dirt, and other supplies, and spend a weekend putting the project together. If we stick with it and take care of our garden, sometimes we have food to harvest. When the season is over, we clean up, and maybe we’ll try it again next year. Or maybe not, since our lives are so busy.
The gardening process should include buying open-pollinated heirloom seeds, gathering seeds from the best of the bounty, and tucking away the neatly labeled packets to plant next year. Yet it’s exactly this final step, along with the notes about how the plant grew, tasted, cooked, stored, and finally gave back its seed, which gives us food security. It’s a process that’s all but lost in our modern lives. In truth, we have very little true security at the dinner table. We depend on strangers for everything we consume.
But that’s changing, thanks to writers like Novella Carpenter who with her friend, Willow Rosenthal has written a second book, The Essential Urban Farmer. I just bought a copy – all 576 glorious how-to pages of it. Three years it took to write, and it's an heirloom keeper. (Congratulations also on the birth of Novella’s first child. She’ll have her hands full this gardening season!)
We can also thank all the willing workers who spread the word about personal farming, no matter how much time, land, and money one has. People like Pamela Price who runs the marvelous blog, Red White & Grew, and shares her insights and experiences with readers about all things related to sustainable gardening. She’s a journalist, a stay-at-home mom and an expert secular homeschooler, another topic she writes about often. Today, she reviews What Does It Mean To Be Green?, our featured title, so please head over there right now and see what she has to say about it. Be sure to bookmark her blog for more reading, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. She also has a book drawing, so don't miss out on that.
Don't forget, you can download a free enhanced e-book copy of What Does It Mean To Be Green? for your little picture book reader. Click for the iBook version or the Nook Book. You can also buy a hardcover copy and get 25% off and free shipping by entering LPPGREEN12 at checkout.
That, dear readers, is just a taste of our locavore theme. We hope you’ll join us throughout the month to see what other stories we have to share. Isn’t March the perfect time to think about your garden? It blew in like a lion at my house, but I’ve already started bedding plants and they’re happily sprouting in the laundry room where I lightly mist them a few times a day and say happy things to them. When I do this, they always give me bigger tomatoes. Really, they do.
Share with us some of your gardening plans. What do you plant? Do you use heirloom seeds? Is this something you do every year? Or will it be your first try? Do leave us comments!