Novella Carpenter’s memoir chronicles her attempt to have the best of both worlds: the culture, crowds, and energy that makes people fall in love with cities; along with backyard self-sufficiency in the form of a homegrown vegetable plot. After relocating to inner city Oakland, she quickly familiarizes us with the built-in difficulties requiring dealing with the noise and mess in navigating the interfaces between both human and animal. Her thoughtful research and willingness to try new things allowed her to even raise livestock, including chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, geese, and even two 300-pigs. She describes the animals’ slaughter with sensitivity, their cooking with a foodie’s passion, and elegantly weaves in urban farming history, and ultimately, it is the juxtaposition of the farming life with inner city considerations that elevates her experiences to the realm of magical.
Like many people searching for a greater dialogue with the food they eat, few authors manage to expressively describe the world of animals she managed to create in a decaying section of Oakland. It is clear in this involving book that she is interested in a larger argument about man’s place in nature, along with animals’ potential place in cities, deciding that the feeding herself didn’t have to resort to clichéd images of rural pastoralism. While researching pigs she describes American cities in the seventeenth and eighteenth century keeping pigs within city limits. Pigs served as living garbage disposals, and still did in some cities until recently (like Cairo, which recently banned them in response to the swine flu outbreak scare).
Carpenter’s story in fact is not so much about self-sufficiency, but about the lines where urban meets rural, and an imaginative and heartfelt meditation on what can happen when we abandon pre-conceived notions of farming an city living.
Check out her website http://novellacarpenter.com/!