20 minutes: Novella Carpenter

Courtesy of Novella Carpenter

Courtesy of Novella Carpenter

I had ice cream with Novella Carpenter!

That came after Carpenter read from her new book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer for Saturday’s LitCrawl reading at 18 Reasons.

Full disclaimer: Novella is a graduate of the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, which publishes and staffs Mission Loc@l.

She describes herself as a woman with a perpetually bad haircut, in need of a decent pair of jeans and a pocket stain remover. I imagined her as tragically unhip. But she wasn’t a woman in a burlap dress at all.

On Saturday night she stood before a sardine-packed room, in a fitted pair of low-riding black corduroy pants, with a huge vintage silver belt buckle and a casual sea foam green cotton fitted button-down with silver iridescent pinstripes. Glasses channeling Flannery O’Connor topped it all.

“I am so over this book,” she told the crowd. “I was going to write you something about peanuts and the Salton Sea.”

Carpenter has been reading and rereading her book on tour. But as things go for a book editor cum farmer cum author, she ran out of time to write about the Salton Sea. Instead, she treated us to the chapter on how she hacked the head from the body of a possum with a rusty shovel. That was after the possum killed two of her beloved animals.

Her Ghost Town Farm, named for the rough Oakland neighborhood she lives in, is right outside her apartment. There she raises chickens, ducks, geese, and honeybees, next to a neighbor named Neruda who keeps a tiny pistol in her purse.

“It’s the ghetto,” she commented.

While working at a publishing house ten years ago, Carpenter read Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living. It changed her life.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god!’” She soon left her cubicle for an urban farm.

Aside from a baby crying, the Saturday reading was a success. I waited for Carpenter to finish signing books. Some new chicken owners wanted advice on eggs.

Carpenter says she’s planning to move her ducks in a car.

“It’s completely predator proof. You can just spray it out.” The “it” being duck poop.

While chickens now grow in backyards on both sides of the bay and nation, it wasn’t too long ago that chickens were associated with scrappy cocks scratching around low-rent districts.

“Latin Americans have always raised chicken,” Carpenter said. “But now there is a total mish-mash.”

She had some time to kill before she had to meet her boyfriend Billy at Arinell Pizza.

We headed to Bi-Rite for their salted caramel ice cream. She got hers with a scoop of chocolate on a sugar cone.

“I have no problem killing a rabbit. They have no personality,” she said as we walked briskly up Guererro towards 16th. Goats, on the other hand, are harder. They do have a personality, she said.

Though Oakland is stereotypically known for its grittiness, it does make more sense that Carpenter would choose to set up a farm there. There is more space, and it’s cheaper.

Farming and writing are not her only jobs. She works at BioOasis, a biodiesel fueling station in Berkeley. Although she’s a co-owner, she downplayed her role. But she won’t be hanging up her coveralls anytime soon.

“I’ve always been bad with money, when I have it, I spend it,” she explained. “It’s tough being a freelance journalist.”

We finished our ice cream and leaned against a wall, next to Arinell’s, to wait for Billy.

“Oh!  There he is,” she said, hugging me goodbye and hopping into the pickup truck. It was Pepto Bismol pink with aqua green geometric lines painted everywhere — moving pop art. Perfect for their next stop: SF MOMA, where a spit-roasted cow would soon arrive via bicycles. A part of this month’s Futurist exhibition.

“I’ve got to see this tonight,” she excitedly explained earlier.

This Futurist event was to culminate with desserts parachuting down onto the museum guests.

As they took off, I wanted to shout: Novella, you forgot your pizza!

4 Comments

  1. hep

    so what i get from this, is that this “urban farmer” killed off local wildlife instead of better securing and protecting her animals? people like this are why we can’t have nice things (or thriving wildlife). way to incredibly disrupt the natural circle of life lady, and way to give every “urban farmer” a bad name.

  2. rj

    Easy now Hep.
    It aint easy to get is ALL right ALL the time.
    She sounds like she’s making a pretty good effort towards the good stuff. None of us are perfect… Let’s support the good, and improve the imperfect. Onward!

  3. hep

    rj: i have raised chickens in the bay are for over 20yr now. i would never ever ever kill ANY local wildlife, no matter HOW annoying, simply because i was too lazy to properly secure my animals. people like this (and this: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/dining/23sfdine.html?_r=2) are giving chicken raisers throughout the bay area a bad name, mostly because they failed to do real research before jumping on the latest fad.

  4. Marysia

    Ms. Novella,
    I beg to differ on your your view of rabbits. Rabbits are full of personality. My English Spot bunny of 7 years spends her time on the couch with me most evenings, responds to her name, abosolutely loves pizza crust and is litter trained to boot!
    If you do not pay attention to an animal because you do not attribute it to have a personality the animal will not interact with you. Please keep comments like this to yourself lady. And, by the way, try to stay away from NYC as in my opinion you are not welcome here. Last time you were in Williamsburg you slaughtered 12 beautiful rabbits. Shame on you!

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