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Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter [audiobook read by Karen White]

November 23, 2009


Ever since I listened to this book, I’ve been asking my wife if we can get some chickens (or perhaps a goat, since I’m not sure how the bulldogs would do with chickens, or vice versa). The answer is a consistent and resolute “Absolutely not,” but this book makes it seem like a fantastic experiment.

Novella Carpenter moved with her husband to Oakland from Seattle, and rented a home in a not-so-nice part of the city, an area nicknamed Ghost Town for its empty lots and abandoned buildings. Next to her apartment was one of these vacant lots, in which she planted some vegetables. This was the beginning of an obsession that would eventually lead her to rooting through the dumpsters of Chinatown, salvaging food scraps to take home to her pigs.

Carpenter’s farm, in addition to producing crops, was at various times home to chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbit, pigs, goats and bees. With the exception of the bees (she’d kept bees in Seattle), all of these experiences were new to her. There’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation both in raising the animals and figuring out how to slaughter them. And that’s where the book gets really interesting. Carpenter’s obsession wasn’t just with raising the animals, but with understanding the whole process.

While most of us eat animals, we also mostly take them for granted. Carpenter didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to raise the animals and then sell them to a butcher or auction them off. So in addition to the trials of raising livestock in downtown Oakland, we get a vivid, unsettling, but ultimately very honest description of how these animals become food.

Carpenter has a witty, light-hearted but heartfelt voice, and Karen White’s read of the book fits the attitude well. I’ve recommended this book to several people. I even sent an email to the Slate Political Gabfest (they’re sponsored by audible, and their promotion was what got me hooked on audio books in the first place) recommending Farm City, and they read my recommendation on their podcast. Here’s the link to the podcast. My moment of fame came on the November 5, 2009 Gabfest at about the 18:00 mark.

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