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Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

Urban meets rural in this memoir of life on a farm in the slums of Oakland.

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It’s not exactly what you’d call a pastoral idyll. “I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto,” deadpans Novella Carpenter. But she’s not kidding. Ten blocks from downtown Oakland, Calif., the peeps and thumps of Carpenter’s livestock compete with shrieks from car alarms, her chicken coop leans against an auto repair shop, and the scent of honey from her beehives mingles with exhaust from the freeway.

Then she adds pigs. “This image of me as Ye Olde Swineherder,” she writes in Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, her scrappy, hilarious, horrifying, yet ultimately thoughtful memoir, “while affirming that urban farming in America was a reality, also confirmed something else: I was indeed a bit nuts.”

As a writer, Carpenter never fails to take a humorous swing at herself. She looks a bit ridiculous and she knows it. The child of hippie parents, she took a joint degree in English and biology in college, only to eventually find herself dreaming of life as a farmer. But her parents had already tried a back-to-the-land lifestyle in Idaho when she was a child and she knew firsthand of the drudgery and isolation that can come with rural living.

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