Book Review: Reading Menu
Reviewed by Dorsey Barger, Fri., Oct. 30, 2009
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmerby Novella Carpenter
Penguin Press, 288 pp., $25.95
House Chamber: Sunday, Nov. 1, 2pm
I can't wait to meet Novella Carpenter when she comes to town for the Texas Book Festival, because I want to be her. Reading Farm City set my head off in a fireworks explosion of possibilities for urban farming. I read it at 3am, too excited to sleep because my partner, Susan Hausmann, and I had just signed a contract to buy 2 acres in East Austin to start our own urban farm. Carpenter's book reads like a to-do list for me. Not content simply to watch the current craze for all things local/organic from the sidelines, she turned a junked-out lot next to her Oakland ghetto apartment into an urban farm and became a player in the game. It wasn't the part about her raising vegetables in a ghetto that made me want to be her. It was the part about her raising and then slaughtering her own meat, raising chickens and ducks and even her own Thanksgiving turkey, and then making them dinner.
I was brave enough to open the Eastside Cafe, with its own organic garden on Manor Road in the 1980s, when the street was riddled with prostitutes and crack dealers and people were being shot to death two blocks away. But could I ever be as brave as Novella Carpenter and take a chicken I had raised from a chick, slit its throat, and pull out its still-warm guts? Her book made me want to be. Could I ever be as brave as she was when she bought two baby pigs and fed their insatiable appetites for six months by Dumpster diving at restaurants in Oakland and San Francisco and then having them slaughtered so she could have the experience of making her own prosciutto and soppressata? I don't know, but I intend to find out. Susan and I now own the land we're going to farm in East Austin, and I already have my own restaurant Dumpster to dive in. We'll be in the front row during Carpenter's panel discussion, learning everything we can.