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Beyond Farm City

Article Published: Feb. 16, 2012 | Modified: Feb. 16, 2012
Beyond Farm City

The Essential Urban Farmer

Of all the current trends in eating and food, the one that appears here to stay is the one that emphasizes locally grown or produced foods.

Proponents of local foods maintain that it helps the local economy, puts fresher foods on the table, and helps the environment because the food doesn’t have to be shipped very far.

Of course, if you live in a large city, finding locally grown produce can present something of a challenge.

In the new book, “The Essential Urban Farmer” (Penguin non-fiction),
authors Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal take the reader on a journey from picking out a suitable spot for a high yield garden in the city to its harvest – and beyond.

In the introduction to the book, Carpenter tells of how she and Rosenthal were both working on urban gardens in the city of Oakland, Calif: “This is the book that we wished we had when we first started out, a how-to manual that speaks directly to farmers trying to grow food and raise animals in the city.”

The book is divided into three sections: Designing Your Urban Farm, Raising City Vegetables and Fruits, and Raising City Animals.

In the first section, Carpenter and Rosenthal have written chapters on how to choose a proper site for an urban garden and how an urban setting faces unique challenges, such as contamination of soil, air and water.

While many of the tips in “The Essential Urban Farmer” are city-specific, a lot more of them are universal to any small garden, whether urban, suburban or out in the country.

For example, in the chapter, “Planning What to Grow and Raise,” the authors write, “While summer veggies are a special treat, if you really want to make a dent in your food bills, you need to shift your focus to those vegetables we eat every week; for many of us, that includes salad greens, cooking greens, carrots beets, potatoes, broccoli and herbs. The good news is that not only can these crops be grown in the summer along with your tomatoes, but depending on your region, they often thrive from early spring through late fall.”

The authors also give some common sense advice on what not to grow: “You’ll want to save your precious growing space for crops that are expensive to buy in the store. Dry beans, bulb onions and cabbage are so inexpensive to buy, it makes more sense to use your precious space to grow parsley, chard and edible pod peas – expensive items.”

The book is easy to read, funny in places, and includes lots of charts, diagrams and maps of potential garden designs. It also includes potential yield charts so that farmers can plant the correct number of plants for the amount of produce they desire.

In the chapters on raising animals on a small city farm, the authors do a good job of emphasizing the smaller animals, such as bees, chickens, ducks and rabbits, that would be more common than cattle in an urban environment.

The largest farm animal that is mentioned in the book is the goat, and the authors describe their care, feeding and milking in great detail.

The authors unflinchingly teach the readers the precise way to slaughter and process both poultry and rabbits. It seems rather graphic on the surface, but if you’re going to raise and eat your own meat, you’d better know how to do these things.

Including appendixes and index, “The Essential Urban Farmer” is 576 pages and costs $25 retail.

‘Farm City’

In January it was announced that Carpenter’s previous book, “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” was named Appalachian State University’s assigned summer reading project for incoming freshmen this year.

The reviewer for The New York Times Book Review stated, “Farm City is easily the funniest, weirdest, most perversely provocative gardening book I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down … Her tone is clear, relaxed and amicable; she is hilarious in describing the foibles of her friends and her ’70s-era hippie parents. As she contemplates … her garden in the greater scheme of life, she shows what she’s capable of and the writing soars.”

Added Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” “If you think the local food movement is getting a tad too precious, then you’ll relish ‘Farm City.’ Carpenter’s captivating account of the funky little farm she created on an abandoned lot in a rough section of Oakland puts a whole new twist on the agrarian tradition in America: she’s going for a mind-meld of Fifty Cent and Wendell Berry, or an inner-city version of ‘The Egg and I’ – if you can conceive of such a thing without your head exploding. By turns edgy, moving and hilarious, ‘Farm City’ marks the debut of a striking new voice in American writing.”

Carpenter will speak at the ASU’s Convocation in Boone on Sept. 6 and will open the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series held on campus.

According to ASU’s Dr. Emory Maiden, it is Carpenter’s message of sustainability and service to others contained in the book that led to its selection.

“Novella Carpenter’s book blends powerful discussions about sustainable choices and about service to others with self-effacing humor,” said Maiden, chairman of Appalachian’s Summer Reading Committee.

Maiden said the book lends itself to conversations into the ethics and the trials of farming in an urban landscape.

“Her story of the costs and rewards of becoming an urban farmer involves important questions about food and community,” Maiden said. “Carpenter suggests an understanding of food, its propagation and preparation that simultaneously grows a congruent and, perhaps, empowered self in relation to the earth and to other lives sharing the same ground.”

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