WSW: City Life on the Farm

Apr 1, 2014

Urban garden in Chicago
Credit Linda from Chicago/Wikicommons

Author Novella Carpenter says she grew up in the environment of "grow your own food." 

Carpenter traces her interest to her parents who she describes as "back to the Earth hippies." Carpenter is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. The book, which details her experience farming in inner city Oakland is one of this year's selections for the Kalamazoo Public Library's Reading Together program. Carpenter will speak at two events in Kalamazoo, April 15th at the Kalamazoo Central High School Auditorium and April 16th at Kalamazoo College.

WMUK correspondent Brian Peterson, who is also a professor in Western Michigan University's Department of Environmental Studies spoke with Carpenter via Skype. 

"We kind of just decided to be squatters, and the gate was open."

Carpenter says she and her partner Billy began farming on an abandoned lot near their apartment in Oakland. She says they have no rights to the property. "We kind of just decided to be squatters, and the gate was open."

They also brought in chickens and turkeys. Rabbits were up on the deck on the apartment building. Carpenter says they also raised pigs. She says dumpsters near their apartment have plenty of food that the pigs can eat. Carpenter says the food in the dumpsters is an economic indicator. When the economy is good, there is plenty of food in the dumpsters. But during a recession there isn't as much waste, and not as much food for the pigs.  

Farm City
Credit Penguin USA

Although her farm is in California, Carpenter says there are plenty of urban farms in cold-weather states. She says Detroit is one of the main areas for urban farming. Carpenter says things like greenhouses make it possible to farm even in areas where the winter can be cold and snowy. Carpenter says access to land is a bigger factor than weather. She says economic instability helps create urban farms. When businesses are buying up available land for development, urban farms get crowded out. 

Carpenter says urban farming, like any farming, requires hard work and resiliency. She says the major difference is that urban farming does not provide the solitude of a rural setting. Carpenter says finding a way to make urban farming pay requires entrepreneurship to sell food to restaurants and other businesses. 

A former vegetarian, Carpenter says she is still bothered by slaughterhouses and the process of killing animals for meat. Carpenter says she learned a lot by raising her own animals to provide her own meat. She says people should know what goes into the process of producing meat. 

While many people think of farming in a rural setting, Carpenter says urban farms are closer to people who can buy their products. She says a long drive isn't required to get food to market. Carpenter says urban farms are also out in the open and people can see how they operate.