A Common Treasure for All, both Rich + Poor

The tomatoes go wild

If you live within five zip codes of my home and have crossed my path in the last week, chances are I’ve taken the time to belabor what an amazing book I’ve just read — Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter.

If you have any inkling whatsoever to grow your own food, becoming more community minded, or just bloom where you are planted — this book is for you. If, however, you happen to be on my regular list of holiday gift recipients, I’d suggest holding off on the purchase. Yes, folks, I’ve found my book of 2010. This book is so, so very good and spoke to me a hundred different ways.

In a nutshell (in this case, a nutshell from a tree grown in your own backyard, harvested seasonally and enjoyed by the sustainable handful): Novella Carpenter and her boyfriend Bill move to a shady neighborhood in Oakland, California and find a way to raise a small farm’s worth of animals and vegetables all from a tiny apartment. Their lives are messy, smelly, wildly fulfilling, beautiful, resourceful, creative and really entertaining.

Five out of five bananas, absoloodle.

One of the many reasons I enjoyed this story is that Novella essentially takes over a bit of land that is technically not hers to grow a garden. I am a wee bit familiar with this act.

The tomatoes go wild

While my renegade garden isn’t acreage, I could relate to her worries of the proper owner coming around any day and putting a halt to hours worth of work and future bounty. Thankfully, my HOA — like many others in the foreclosure era — have bigger fish to fry. Or tomatoes to crush, so to speak. An excerpt that speaks to the history of squatting for the greater good:

“I read about the Diggers, in seventeenth-century England, who squatted in houses and planted vegetables on public land. In 1649, a scroungy group of men gathered at a small town southwest of London to plant corn and wheat on the commons. In the declaration they submitted explaining why they were ‘beginning to plant and manure the waste land of George-Hill,’ they expressed their belief that the earth was ‘a Common Treasure for all, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth.'” Almost 350 years laer, the idea of planting food crops in common areas still makes a great deal of sense.

” In America, squatting dates back to the very beginning of white settlement. Seeking religious freedom, the Puritans, let’s face it, squatted on Indian Land.”

Also, there are so many pages of this book that gave me greater understanding and appreciation for my love of gardening:

“When seeds germinate, an amazing thing happens. A seed is ripened ovule, like a hen’s egg: it contains an embryo and a stored food supply. I watered the seeds every day because of a process called imbibition. When a seed soaks up water, its cells swell and mitochondria become rehydrated and start to work.”

There are other parts that taught me how honeybees make comb and wax, the way you raise and slaughter rabbit, how to keep chickens, ducks and turkeys happy and healthy in a tiny environment. Also? How to keep a sense of humor when you are hungry, trying to eat and maintain your ideals and doing so in a dangerous place.  I truly loved this book. I’m not conveying how funny and sarcastic Novella can be either, but if you make it through the section where she slaughters her pigs after dumpster diving for months to feed them? You’ll enjoy it yourself.

~K