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Editorial Reviews

When Novella Carpenter and her boyfriend decide to move to an apartment at the end of a street in a rough neighborhood in Oakland, California, they base their choice on the large and vacant lot next door. Already experienced with raising chickens, gardening, and keeping bees, Carpenter wants to take on a larger challenge: creating an urban farm. Farm City is a memoir chronicling her development of the vacant lot, the acquisition of livestock, and the rich and diverse characters that populate her new neighborhood.

Carpenter's voice comes through Karen White's narration as having matter-of-fact sensibility, dotted throughout the book with dry humor and a healthy sense of irony. Carpenter is constantly planning to take the operations of her farm a step further than the season before, starting with raising ducks and turkeys in addition to her chickens; but as much as she plans, something unexpected is always around the corner. White's narration at once reflects Carpenter's excitement and frustration at setbacks, as every project turns out to be something slightly other than what she bargained for.

As the narrative of Farm City unfolds, Carpenter routinely reflects on herself in relation to the tradition of farming, and it is clear she sees herself in line with both the people of the past who farmed out of necessity and writers and scholars who have written about man's connection with earth as an intellectual exercise. Instead of trying to obtain a novel and unique experience, Carpenter wants to see herself as part of a very human tradition, and White's voice commands authority when she quotes the people who have inspired Carpenter. As Carpenter describes her rationale for deciding to raise livestock for meat and the daunting task of butchering the animals herself; White is unflinching. She conveys a confidence that what may seem brutal about killing her livestock has been a mere fact of life for human beings up until recent decades, and her candid descriptions and frank tone force the listener to wonder why it's the idea of having one's own farm that seems strange, and not the fact that so few of us has any connection at all with what we eat every day. —Erin Ikeler

Publisher's Summary

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 to have it both ways: a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, concerts, and a 24-hour convenience mart mere minutes away - especially when she moved to a ramshackle house in inner-city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop. What started out as a few egg-laying chickens led to turkeys, geese, and ducks. Soon, some rabbits joined the fun, then two 300-pound pigs. And no, these charming and eccentric animals weren't pets; she was a farmer, not a zookeeper. Novella was raising these animals for dinner.

Novella Carpenter's corner of downtown Oakland is populated by unforgettable characters. Lana (anal spelled backward, she reminds us) runs a speakeasy across the street and refuses to hurt even a fly, let alone condone raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Bobby, the homeless man who collects cars and car parts just outside the farm, is an invaluable neighborhood concierge. The turkeys, Harold and Maude, tend to escape on a daily basis to cavort with the prostitutes hanging around just off the highway nearby.

Every day on this strange and beautiful farm, urban meets rural in the most surprising ways. For anyone who has ever grown herbs on their windowsill or tomatoes on their fire escape, or who has obsessed over the offerings at the local farmers' market, Carpenter's story will capture your heart.

©2009 Novella Carpenter; (P)2009 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Utterly enchanting.... The juxtaposition of the farming life with inner-city grit...elevates it to the realm of the magical." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Overall
  • Sarah
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 08-19-10

Not an instruction book but a fun read

First, for those upset because this woman is a "squatter," maybe should read/listen closer. She has permission to have a garden on that lot and says so at around the 45 minute spot. She just likes to call herself that because she was for about a week. Then met the owner and got permission.


This book does not give you directions so much as tell an entertaining story though you will hear tips on urban farming here and there. If hearing the four letter word for excretion rather than a more polite term for it upsets you, then move on. If the idea of putting well-rotted, composted horse manure in your car (at this point it's just a really rich soil - horse stuff is just plants ground up pretty much anyway) upsets your sensibilities then you'll hear things that will upset you. Being a former horse owner and long-time organic gardener, none of this upsets me in the least. I was jealous of her for being able to get so much of it.


For me, this was a very entertaining book and I enjoyed it a lot. Giving 4 rather than 5 stars though as I reserve 5 for only the greatest. Again, I enjoyed this book very much.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Karen
  • Waynesville, OH, United States
  • 08-30-13

awesome

What made the experience of listening to Farm City the most enjoyable?

The reality, the fact that she actually carried out her dream in all odds

Who was your favorite character and why?

Both her and her friend

Which scene was your favorite?

the pigs and dumpster diving

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I loved it very real and honestly sustainable

Any additional comments?

This is one of my favorite books, she is real I love the way she utilizes her resources and makes things work, how she reaches out to her readers and makes them feel comfortable about the farming experience. also she shares how you can be a farmer in less than optimal circumstances which is where I feel the strength of this book lies. hats off to you I would love to meet you!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Entertaining and intimate

This is a well written, entertaining and intimate (maybe too intimate for some of us carnivores) view of living in the real world of urban farming. Fun.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

More enjoyable than Kingsolver's take on the topic

What made the experience of listening to Farm City the most enjoyable?

I LOVE how Novella and her partner made use of materials that would've otherwise been tossed, and in doing so created something out of nothing. For some reason I find that quite exciting and really enjoyed this book. I also very much appreciated the revelation of her mistakes as well as her successes.

What other book might you compare Farm City to and why?

You can't help but compare it to Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral." I found this to be much less preachy, much more fun and in the end, a better learning experience. Much better narrated, too.

Have you listened to any of Karen White’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I don't believe I've heard any of Karen White's performances before this, but she did a pretty good job.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes.

Any additional comments?

The only quibble I had with the author was her interaction with Sheila. Novella ignored so many obvious signals, and then proceeded to blame Sheila for doing what she clearly indicated she would do, no matter what Novella had requested.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

What a pleasure!

I enjoyed both the book and the reader very much. It was like a combination of The Omnivore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. The author perfectly captures the somewhat obsessive nature of a dyed-in-the-wool gardener, while always wryly aware of how crazy some of her behavior appears to others. Lovely!

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tina
  • Nibley, UT, United States
  • 09-30-09

Hmmm.

I got this book because I love gardening, have bees, raise chickens for eggs and meat, and like the idea of being self sufficient. Listening to someone SQUAT on another's land, use their station wagon (tarped the inside, are you serious?) to haul manure, and use the F word wasn't in my plan.

While the book does offer some insight into a way of living I don't understand (daily shootings, sirens, punk kids with no adult supervision) and the gardening of a city dweller with country roots, I didn't like the book. If a person is living in the city and doesn't mind their station wagon having poop in the back then this book is for you.

If you want to read a book with better inspiration of living closer to YOUR land, raising your own food, and gardening for a purpose, then read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Because some people find humor in the F word, and wouldn't consider a truck as a vital vehicle, I gave this book a 3. If you were my closest friend, I would take the book out of your hand and put it back on the book store shelf.

20 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Interesting

What did you love best about Farm City?

Told the entire story, with all the worts. I thought this would be an urbanite who moves to the country -- no! They start a farm in an empty city block. Lots of information and well told.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Really enjoyed the story

The fact that it's mostly true was neat. The narration was excellent. I'm just sorry there's not a sequel.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

I was really excited at first, then lost interest

What disappointed you about Farm City?

While at first I really loved the odd collection of neighbors and her interesting little block in urban Oakland, they eventually became uninteresting and there to make a hippie's story more colorful. I was very gung-ho rooting for Novella, urban farmer, but I just lost interest after awhile in her farming antics. It might just be because I don't have a huge frame of reference for the experience. Someone who is into farming, and urban farming, might truly connect with her and her struggles. I live in a total urban jungle and my grass is public parks, which I love because I don't have to garden or mow them. So maybe I'm just not the right audience.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

I didn't have any complaints about the performance. That's a big factor for me before I buy an audiobook. She was good.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Well Written.

Both the author and the narrator transform what could be very dry material into an entertaining narrative. It's unfortunate that the author felt compelled to include two snarky, small-minded political references in the book. This aside, I recommend the book as food for thought & hopefully, a little backyard action.