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Novella Carpenter will discuss her memoir 'Farm City' tonight in L.A.

July 23, 2009|George Ducker

When you consider the problems plaguing West Oakland, Calif., the lack of farm-fresh produce and live goats is probably not high on the list.

But just a stone's throw from bustling Interstate 980, Novella Carpenter has spent the last six years tending an urban subsistence farm on an unused, 4,500-square-foot lot next to her apartment building. Surrounded by street-corner drug-dealing and bursts of violent crime, she has raised chickens, ducks, rabbits, turkeys and pigs -- all for her own dinner table.

Carpenter joins KCRW's "Good Food" host Evan Kleiman tonight at the Central Library to discuss her memoir, "Farm City," in which she chronicles the ups and downs of high-end Dumpster-diving, porch beekeeping and the constant vigilance required when "squat gardening."

"It's not a beautiful thing, necessarily," she says. "It's not about reviving some rural, pastoral daydream."

"Farm City" is the result of a series of articles -- eventually expanded into a blog -- that chronicled her move to Oakland from Seattle, where she had been growing her own vegetables and beekeeping.

She was raised in rural Idaho and Washington state by parents who left the Bay Area in the 1960s to follow their back-to-the-land ideals, Carpenter says. "The whole hippie aesthetic never really appealed to me. I spent my 20s having my own kind of rebellion, but ultimately my cultural values were the same."

"Farm City" is broken up into sections, each detailing the raising and eventual slaughter of three animals: a turkey, a rabbit and a pig. Like any farmer, she experiences problems. Chickens escape into the city streets; her ducks are killed by a pack of wild dogs. At the same time, neighborhood children stop by to get a slice of the rural life right on the streets of Oakland.

The ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, with Vietnamese neighbors and a Yemeni shopkeeper, is perhaps central to Carpenter's success. Many had emigrated from countries where subsistence plot farming was commonplace.

Kleiman acknowledges that she doesn't know many urban farmers whose neighbors would tolerate goats climbing up a second-floor staircase or swine snuffling in the side yard. "If I did what she did," Kleiman declares, "my neighbors would be horrified."

Carpenter is clear-eyed and scientific about the process of raising each animal and, after killing them, how she lovingly prepares them for dinner.

"People are constantly taking me aside and saying, 'I don't want to be weird, but the next time you kill some rabbits, can I come over?' " She laughs, "I have to tell them that, no, it's not weird, and 10 other people have asked me too."

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george.ducker@latimes.com

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Novella Carpenter with Evan Kleiman

Where: Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., L.A.

When: 7 tonight

Price: Free with RSVP

Contact: (213) 228-7025; www.lfla.org/aloud

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