In this excerpt from her book Farm City, Novella Carpenter details how she began urban farming in Oakland and her journey buying poults to slaughtering her own Thanksgiving dinner. To begin with, she introduces us to her home in Ghost Town, along with the first of our motley cast of characters. She explains how much of her area is abandoned, with the only thriving businesses being liquor and convenience stores, which leads to the same kind of food desert described in Black Food Geographies by Reese. Carpenter also mentions in the book that she is not alone in growing some of what she eats, several of her neighbors grow herbs and spices, and she meets a woman, Willow, who has established an even larger urban farm ten blocks away. This excerpt does not follow Carpenter’s first foray into urban farming, but this is her first attempt to raise meat birds. The adventure starts with a box of chicks, several ducklings and goslings, and a few poults. The birds did not stay so numerous for long. Only one gosling survived to adulthood, and two turkeys. Over the next several months, it seems like everything in the neighborhood has it out for Carpenter’s birds. A possum gets a duck and the goose, the dogs next door get one of the turkeys, and fear of avian flu forces her to get rid of most of the chickens. By the time November comes the only bird Carpenter can bring herself to kill is the remaining turkey, Harold. He make a fine Thanksgiving meal.
Interwoven through this narrative about raising meat birds in an urban environment is another story about a community coming together and becoming more self-reliant, as well as some of the challenges to that self-reliance. Carpenter’s garden is her pride and joy, and because she doesn’t own the land she’s growing on, she doesn’t close it off to anyone else either. People from all over the neighborhood come by and pick whatever they like. This leads to a sense of community among residents, and helps Carpenter find her place in the community as the resident batty gardener. However, not everything is harmonious, and the garden’s other visitors sometimes threw off Carpenter’s plans. Her most precious plant was a watermelon, the only one that grew, and it was stolen out of the garden the morning it ripened. The biggest challenge, though, is when the garden landowner decides condos would be more profitable. Although the condo project doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon, the reading ends with the threat looming over Carpenter, and the whole community that relies on the garden for fresh produce.