We’re live blogging at Washington Lee High School in Arlington this afternoon – Novella Carpenter, author of “Farm City: the education of an urban farmer” will be reading for and taking questions from Arlington high school science students.
Novella is really good at talking to kids — she talks the way she writes, very comfortably and friendly, very funny.
She starts out by showing the students photos of her neighborhood in Oakland, called Ghost Town. She does most of her farming in a vacant lot, but keeps her animals in her back yard. Shows us great photos of the ducks that come in the mail – ridiculously cute. Then she says,”the great thing about urban poultry is that they make eggs!” and “turkeys are like ducks, on acid.” Novella is a big fan of turkeys – she agrees with Ben Franklin’s wish that the turkey would have been the national bird – very adventurous, pleasant fowl.
She used to be a vegetarian – her whole family when veg for her sake – but stopped being a vegetarian when she realized that she could raise / kill her own meat. And yes, turkey chicks are very, very cute – but then they grow up and are ready to be harvested.
After turkeys she tried rabbits – still VERY cute. Shows us a photo of her and her sister as kids, holding a pet rabbit. She was raised by hippies – who raised meat rabbits.
How did she get into raising pigs? From dumpster diving in China Town – tells us about the fish guts…. Now Novella is reading the section when they first get fish guts for the pigs, and get offered money by a homeless guy because they look so pathetic and desperate doing so. And then she shows us a photo of pig heads in buckets – she thinks they look optimistic! A student has to walk out for a minute..
She discovered that pigs liked cooked food even more than fish guts, so she started cooking for them – until she realized that restaurants throw away COOKED food. So then she got caught dumpster diving in restaurant dumpsters….. Then she got tired of pigs – so much mess and work to feed them – and shifted to goats.
And chickens! Chickens are a popular option – her friend Patrick started an egg collective – 10 families take care of a flock of chickens together.
And now she’s talking about the history of urban farming… Photo of SF City Hall’s Victory Garden in 2008. Very Cool. Black Panthers had a farming initiative. And photos of urban farms she’s visited all over the country. And Will Allen’s Growing Power.
She’s taking questions – tells us she visited a Bronx HS recently – best question was “What’s the grossest thing that’s ever happened to you?” Answer: Putting turkey intestines in the washing machine by mistake, and not realizing she’d done so until after she emptied the wash.
Favorite part of urban farming? Not being isolated from other people while farming – the garden becomes a conversation.
What makes her different from other urban farmers?
How do you get up the courage to start farming in an empty lot?
How did she become an urban farmer? At first, she didn’t know that she was one:
When did she last hear from Lana? – she moved to Mexico and then Portland – saw her in Portland, L did her makeup for a TV appearance.
Now that N knows what does and doesn’t work in the garden, how does she keep it new and exciting? – There are always new animals to try, new seeds to try – she’s been doing seed saving. The cool thing about farming is you always learn something new. Currently she’s experimenting with using cloth enclosures to extend her farming season.
Doe she own the lot now? No – it was bought, but the lady who bought it says she can keep farming it until the condos get built.
What advice do you have for raising chickens without getting into trouble? – The main rule is NEIGHBOR RELATIONS. See the Movie MAD CITY CHICKENS (about raising chickens in Madison WI)
She’s on twitter – will do ‘pop-up’ farm stands – had a police officer stop by and get upset that she was farming in non-agriculturally zoned land. The she showed him around, and he though what she was doing was cool.
She recently did a rabbit-killing class in Brooklyn, but it may have been too soon in the Brooklyn Urban Farming scene – too intense for first time farmers – should have started with chickens instead. She got a lot of hate mail from that experience. She also says that the NYTimes article didn’t help because of the headline and because they got a lot of it wrong.
If you enjoyed reading and watching this, come see Novella in person tonight!