Return to GhostTown Farm

The San Francisco Chronical published this article on April 19, 2019 under the headline: Did Rising Rents Kill the Bay Area’s Urban Homesteading Movement? by Samantha Nobles-Black. The final two paragraphs give an update on Novella Carpenter, whose Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer had a huge impact on me when I reviewed it back in 2009. More than any other book, it was responsible for triggering my nascent desire to cultivate a garden.

Novella now teaches at the University of San Francisco and leases what was once GhostTown Farm to “a group growing herbs from the African diaspora”. She tells Nobles-Black “The urban farming movement isn’t about ‘Hey, look what I’m doing by myself in my own backyard’ anymore…”. A statement which both is and isn’t true.

2019 marks a decade from when Urban Homesteading was at the height of its popularity, and by popularity, I mean “peak media attention”. But it’s still very much alive today as a movement, albeit with a more environmental slant. Scroll through Instagram or check out Pinterest and you’ll see thousands of people who still grow and preserve their own food, do handicrafts, and raise livestock (bees and chickens remain very popular). There’s a drive towards self-sufficiency and a repudiation of the consumer lifestyle. The #zerowaste movement/hashtag is a good (if hyper-photogenic) example of how the movement has evolved and branched out.

You can read my 2010 review of Farm City here. Below is an excerpt.

Farm City is divided into three parts  – TurkeyRabbit and Pig.  By the time I finished Turkey I realized that not only was I comfortable with what Carpenter was doing, I’d come to better understand my earlier aversion to it.  In my mind the butchering of animals was associated with crowded livestock trucks passed on the highway.  Novella Carpenter provides a better example, a more humane and a more responsible one.  She defines animal sacrifice in the form of honey stolen from bees or meat butchered from a pig.  These animals have been given a fair trade – food, care and comfortable lives.  The farmer has earned her meal through caring for them… and worked hard doing it.

Caring for livestock is no easy feat.  Caring for livestock on the small plot of land in Oakland, California that she has named Ghost Town Farm should be listed among the labors of Hercules.  Escapee pigs and turkeys headed for the highway, packs of stray dogs, vegetarian neighbors and the constant threat of having her farm replaced by condos – Novella Carpenter encounters obstacles Laura Ingalls Wilder never dreamed of.


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