“After Novella Carpenter’s critically acclaimed memoir Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer came out, she and friend Willow Rosenthal, the founder of West Oakland gardening nonprofit City Slicker Farms, started talking about compiling a manual on urban gardening. “We always got these random emails like, ‘My chickens aren’t laying anymore!’” says Carpenter. So she and Rosenthal joked that they should write a book so they could reply: “Buy the book!”
Three years later, they can. Their new book, The Essential Urban Farmer, is a 500-page nuts-and-bolts guide to farming in the city–complete with sample garden designs, detailed illustrations, and photos of rabbit genitalia. Rosenthal, who is also a Waldorf School teacher and runs a small CSA in Berkeley, wrote the first two sections of the book: “Designing Your Urban Farm” and “Raising City Vegetables and Fruits.” Carpenter wrote the section called “Raising City Animals.” With advice on how to fix a chicken’s prolapsed “vent,” and a detailed how-to on eviscerating a chicken, it’s not for the squeamish. But then, neither is raising livestock.
I talked to Carpenter and Rosenthal recently about the guide, and got some tips about how to create a thriving urban farm.
Why did you write this book?
Carpenter: We were both trial-and-error urban farmers. We would’ve loved to have had a guidebook that showed us best practices. So this is the book that we wished we’d had when we were starting out.
In the intro, you write that the average urban backyard can grow all the fruit and veggies for one person in 25 x 40 feet, and that it makes economic sense to garden if you have more time than money. Is this book geared, in part, towards low-income readers?
Carpenter: Yeah, definitely. I’m low-income, Willow is probably low-income, too. People are like, “You should eat organic food,” but when you go to Whole Foods or the farmers’ market, it’s so expensive. So this was our DIY way to eat organic, healthy food. If you do it right, it can be cost effective.
Rosenthal: I wouldn’t say that it’s only geared towards low-income people, but toward people who are interested in making their own solutions. It’s not going to be as useful for people who want to purchase everything at the garden store or hire other people to do work in the garden. To make an impact on the way that the food system is structured for environmental good, it’s necessary for people of all walks of life to grow food in the city….”