Category Archives: field trips

Happy Summer Solstice

Ahh, it’s officially summer again. Just like a new year, the summer solstice always makes me want to write lists of things and projects to do. For some reason, every summer I forget that it’ll be over soon and that the rains will come and so I should do as much as possible now. Here’s my list o’things to do before the days shorten and I lose my momentum.

1. New t-shirt design. How lucky I am that a woman who buys chicken feed from us at the Biofuel Oasis is also a talented artist! We struck up a conversation and came up with a barter: she makes me a logo for Ghost Town Farm, I give her stuff from the farm. Here’s the new design, which will be on t-shirts and for sale soon. Thank you Miriam Stahl, you rock star.


2. Finally build that cob oven. When I posted about the cob oven in January, lo and behold, a talented potter called me up and offered to help build it. We’ve had a couple of consultations, and I’m just building the urbanite (broken concrete) foundation. The end of next week, we’ll be mixing up the cob and making the oven. Thanks to the fire marshall’s visit, I’ve place the oven Very Far Away From the House. If you’re reading Victor–it’s all good.

3. Build an outdoor rabbit area in the backyard. I’ve realized that I had a lot of unused space in the backyard. Namely, a back fence that could have an elevated rabbit run. That way the chickens could sift through the bunny droppings.

4. Have a big tour on July 5. I’m helping with an Outstanding in the Field dinner on July 5, partnering with my soul sister, Nicole LoBue, to bring some urban ag snacks to the table. The event is happening at a winery in Berkeley, but people will be coming by GhosttownFarm for tours. In the interest of stacking functions, I’m going to open up the farm that day to everyone. I’ll be busy in the next weeks making signage and a donation jar. Open Farm day, July 5, 10-2.

5. Buy a new milk goat. I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be buying a doe from Castle Rock Nigerians. I really want a herd of three goats in my backyard, and it looks like that dream in coming true in the next few weeks. And like I told people who took my goat class this weekend, it is a good idea to buy really good breeding stock–something I didn’t do and am now correcting after two years of sub-par goats (cover your eyes, Bebe, I still love you). Thanks Sarah!

6. Go camping/learning about wild food. I realized this spring at the Buckeye Gathering of Primitive Skills, that I don’t get out into nature as much as I should, and I’ve been craving it. So I’m going to make it a point to find camping spots that I can ride my bike/take BART to this summer. Bill and I have always talked about hiking that green belt that runs along the East Bay, and maybe this July it will happen. I met a new cool herbalist, Tellur Fenner, at Buckeye who leads urban herbal walks, so I’m excited to learn more about that. He lives just around the block, and brings classes to my garden and assures me that wild radish is delicious.

Whew, I’m going to stop there. I’m sure more projects will present themselves as the long hot days of summer continue. Happy solstice, now what are your plans?

Lessons from the Road

I think I gained 10 pounds on book tour. It was just gross. I mean, I ordered room service so many times. It’s just sick. What wasn’t sick was I got to meet so many kick ass urban farmers! Of course I can’t get most of the images off my camera to show you, but eventually I will and you’ll be as impressed as I was. Here’s the break-down:

Boston. Ok, I was too jet lagged to find the Food Project, but I swear I will find them and see their farm some day.

Philadelphia. Greensgrow’s farm manager, Ryan, picked me up from the airport and gave me a whirlwind tour of the Philly Farm Scene. Mill Creek Farm was an oasis of lush, with almost two acres in production, beehives, a composting toilet, solar panels, and a cob oven. They sell to CSA members and have a produce stand. Then I saw a high school garden that is funded through a nutrition program. Then onto Greensgrown. It has been on my blogroll for awhile, but I had no idea what they’re up to. What I discovered was: they’re up to a lot. They are a plant nursery, an apiary, a CSA curator (meaning they bring together all kinds of farms to set up a nice CSA box of meat, eggs, milk, butter, and vegetables), an education center, and a farm. They have lots of poly houses growing beans and tomatoes, chard and strawberries. They also have the coolest cool room, using a Cool Bot, which is a hacked AC unit. They also make their own biodiesel and they have methanol recovery. I mean, what don’t they do? It honestly made me feel like a slacker. Also I found out the following: philadelphia still has cowboys with horses in the city. If I didn’t love Oakland, I’d move to Philly…

Or, Baltimore. I heart Baltimore so much. I got to stay in my friend’s warehouse near downtown. She only pays $400 for an enormous room and studio and shared space. And the people of Baltimore were so amazing. They laughed their asses off at my jokes during my reading, and I found out there is hardly any urban farming going on there, despite the fact there’s tons of vacant land. I did meet this one farmer guy and a really nice lady who are working on starting farms in abandoned areas. I’m telling you, I’m in love with Baltimore. Finally, this is crazy, there’s this: erected this photo in the window of the freaking public library:

These were my hosts: my friend Emily, Judy from Enoch Pratt Library, and Linda from Baltimore Green Works. Now that poster is just scary big, right?

Then off I scampered to Salt Lake City. There I discovered the most amazing urban “gardener” named David Bell, Jill Bell and Celia Bell (David’s sis-in-law). David was a total breath of fresh air. I was blown away by the amount of land in production and how much they’ve accomplished down there. I enjoyed their irrigation methods (ditch), their poly houses which had big green tomatoes, and their attitude that they’re just doing large scale backyard gardening. Love that, and it made me rethink my farmer pretensions. I mean, what’s so bad about being a gardener anyway? Here’s David, and his soil block maker (has anyone used these?). I’m pretty excited to get one because you don’t have to use plastic trays and six packs, which I loathe. David was just putting the blocks on recycled metal bread trays. Celia is a total bad-ass, but I only got to meet her for a second, she keeps goats and chickens and a huge garden in the ghetto of SLC (i had no idea they existed).

Now I’m home, head swirling with all these new ideas and new people and urban farm–I mean gardening–love.

If you’re keen to hang out, here’s where I’ll be:

Wednesday, June 16 @ 7pm Green Arcade Books in SF on Market next to Zuni Cafe (not that I’ve eaten there).

Sunday, June 20, 9:30-12:30 teaching a Goat Class! To sign up, go to www.biofueloasis.com. If goats aren’t your thing, Nishanga Bliss (!) is teaching a fermentation class later that same day.

Animal (hide tanning), Vegetable (fermenting), and (fruit) Miracle

If the New Year is getting you excited to learn some new skills, I have a couple fun classes and things to suggest.

1. Scion Exchange

Berkeley, San Jose, Sebastopol, and many more! 

If you have fruit trees, you can graft different varieties onto your tree! Last year, I went to the scion exchange in San Francisco and got some crazy kinds of fruit trees to graft. Sadly, not one of the grafts took, even though I spent hours going to the scion exchange, whittling scion wood and cleft grafting onto my pear and apple trees. The year before I had four take. Clearly I’m getting all Flowers for Algeron on the grafting tip. I need to brush up!  That’s why I’m so psyched that again the scion exchange is coming! This year, it’ll be in several places, I’m going to the one in San Jose on January 9th, because it’s at an urban farm that sounds mighty wicked.  

For more info about dates and times for the scion exchanges, see the California Rare Fruit website.

2. Rabbit Hide Tanning Class with Tamara Wilder

Ghosttown Farm, Oakland, CA

Feb 6-7, 9am-5pm (Saturday & Sunday)

Braintanning is a natural, beautiful & soft method for tanning furs.

In this two day class, participants will partake in the whole process—from prepping and fleshing the pelt to smoking the softened fur.  Tools and materials will be provided and some softening tools will also be available for sale.

Domestic rabbit furs will be supplied.

$120 per person   

Bio: Tamara Wilder has been demonstrating and practicing ancient living skills for the past 20 years.  She is the coauthor of the book Buckskin: The Ancient Art of Braintanning and regularly teaches seminars on stringmaking, braintanning, firemaking and other ancient technologies across Northern California.  More info at www.paleotechnics.com  

If you’d like to sign up or get more information, email me at novellacarpenter at gmail dot com. 

*Never mind if you don’t keep rabbits, the concepts in this class apply for all kinds of hairy critters, including squirrels and roadkill. Tamara is a total bad-ass. 

3. Sauerkraut Making on Valentine’s Day

Biofuel Oasis, 1441 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

February 14, 11-12:30

$25

Come on down the Biofuel Oasis and learn how to make sauerkraut and ginger beer from my friend Leslie, who is mighty knowledgeable about all things fermented. We’ll supply all the raw materials to make a jar of kraut and a bottle of ginger beer to take home to your loved ones–with tastings in between. 

Register here; and while you’re there, check out all the other cool classes like Keeping Chickens and Ducks, Greywater, Backyard Beekeeping, Mushroom Cultivation, and Rabbits!

Back Home

Those words: back home, make me so happy.

My mom called to tell me she had counted, and I had been to 10 different venues in almost as many days during my east coast tour. I was in denial about those numbers, but looking back on it, yup, she was right. Funny thing was, it never felt like work. Mostly because of the awesome people I met along the way.

First thing I did after I landed in New York City was to go to the New York Restoration Project offices, where an awesome urban farmer and tree steward had invited me to visit. After I had a gander at the offices–gorgeous and seems like a fun place to be–we went to the Spotted Pig for dinner. There we met up with the Pig’s forager and ate some yummy British pub food. The next morning I got a tour of some Bronx gardens. I can’t believe how much unused space is there! As we wandered, we met community gardeners and gawked at what people had planted. One proud urban farmer showed us his prized collard green patch. I loved the little houses people build in the gardens.

After the tour, I went to Dewitt-Clinton high school in the Bronx. This great organization, called Behind the Book, provides kids at this and other “inner city” high schools books and then invites authors to come talk to the kids. I was flattered to be included in this program. I loved meeting the kids, who were so excited, and appeared to have actually read my book!

A few hours later, I found myself at the Horticulture Society of New York, giving a reading and presentation. The HSNY is so f-ing cool. They do job training for guys post-prison, they have an amazing plant gallery and of course, a wonderful library. Many sweet people came to hear me talk, and I felt very loved–especially by Owen from Just Food.

The next day, I took care of some business during the day, then did a reading at Vox Pop in Flatbush. Such an adorable audience! My favorite folks were a freegan couple who ended up bartering with me for a copy of my book in exchange for a hand-made knife. I definitely got the better end of the deal: the knife is freaking amazing. And sharp.

I then headed to New England for the next four days, doing readings in Providence, Boston, Portland, and Portsmouth. What can I say? I love Providence! There I met the most amazing group of people who run the Southside Community Land Trust and City Farm, right in downtown Providence.

This photo is Rich Pederson, the main farmer at City Farm, standing next to his raspberry forest. He is a total rockstar, picked me up at the train station with raspberries to munch on. I got really inspired by his community building ideas: like block parties! rain water barrel building! vegetable start propagation and sales! We had a really warm, funny conversation in association with Providence Slow Food and the Unitarian church. I also got to meet and stay with Poor Girl Gourmet blogger, Amy McCoy. She is sooo fun.

Boston was beautiful and freezing cold. Boston Slow Food really turned out people for my talk/reading, which was paired with a class on how to keep urban chickens. I also got the chance to see my dear old friend Joe Waldwell, painter extraordinaire. He played me a Quiet Riot song to get me geared up for my reading. Let’s just say, I was amped up! I have to go back to Boston because I missed seeing the famous Allandale Farm and the Food Project. Lucky for me, I think I’ll be hitting Boston again for the paperback book tour in June.

That night, I took a bus to Portland Maine and found myself in a car that smelled like goat. Thank god. I love goat cars, there aren’t enough of them in this world. The driver, Margaret Hathway, is the author of The Year of the Goat, and she was wonderful. She and her husband Karl live outside of Portland, where they farm and make cheese, raise two adorable human children, and prepare delicious foods like beef stew and Pear custard tarts. Yum!

In the morning, we went to Portland, had breakfast at Aurora Provisions (sage latkes AND beet sausage hash, good lord!). I always say this: every city I go to has an urban farm, you just have to ask. Portland, Maine was no exception.There’s a great org, Cultivating Community, who teaches local youth about farming, they have a little orchard, goats, and hella vegetables. I love their spirit. Stuffed and happy, I read at the fabulous Rabelais Books, the most amazing cookbook, food, farming, and antiquarian bookstore ever. It was the inspiration for the equally lovely Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Are you exhausted yet? Well, next I went to Portsmouth, NH for their 50-mile Thanksgiving Dinner where I did a little reading and talk about my farm. There was a “Nor’Easter” storm or something like that. Wonderful, slightly terrifying rain. I missed seeing the cool historic gardens there in Portsmouth, though. Next time?

Back in NYC by 3am on Sunday. Just in time to rush to Brooklyn and teach my rabbit slaughter class. Hmmm. How I managed to make sense and gently guide my students to self-empowerment, I am not sure. But, the class was great, the students were eager, and the rabbits were healthy. Here’s one reporter’s take on the day. If I had seen the “bad” students, I would’ve clocked them. But like I said: tired.

I spent the last few days in New York in an eating-fueled torpor: going to a mind-blowingly good dinner put on by a gaggle of chefs from the West Coast (Chez Panisse/OPEN) and the East Coast (Diner and Marlowe & Daughter/Sons) and Meatpaper Magazine. I cannot forget how delicious the Blue Point oysters of Long Island are. The cooks made dishes from rabbit, and I must say, it was outstanding. Highlights included the rabbit terrine, the Boudin Blanc, and the frisee salad. A dinner host on another night made the most delectable Long Island duck breasts, with macaroons for dessert. Stunning.

Now I’m back at home, processing (obviously) everything I did in New York and New England. The goats are doing great: Bebe’s back in heat today, Hedwig’s coat is still luscious, Ginger is as dainty as ever. The chickens are all molting. The rabbits are getting big, and my new buck, Mr. Spider is becoming social and an adventurous eater. The garden is sprouting new seeds–beet, carrot, favas–and producing fruit–white genoa figs, Orange Cox apples, rhubarb, limes. The bees are enjoying the unseasonably warm days. And then there was Bill, who takes care of everything while I’m gone.

What’s next? Working on a new book, curing olives, making cheese, planning some trips. But mostly enjoying the wonders of home.

Rabbit Class: Brooklyn

I know, I know, first there was the chicken class in Kansas City. And then there is the upcoming turkey workshop in Austin, TX this Saturday. And now, I’d like to announce the Brooklyn rabbit class.

The Complete Rabbit, Brooklyn, NY November 15

Rabbits are the new chicken. More and more urban farmers are discovering the benefits of raising rabbits for meat in the city: bunnies are quiet, prefer to be kept in shady locations, reproduce quickly, and can be fed scraps.

This class will cover rabbit basics: housing, sourcing food for them on a budget, breeding, and harvesting. A quick and humane technique for killing meat rabbits will be demonstrated, as well as dressing and preparing the rabbit for the table.

Following the slaughter portion of the class, there will be a three hour break, and class will resume at Marlow and Daughter for a hands-on butcher and cooking class with Samin Nosrat. She will demonstrate how to extract the most flavor from your rabbit, with recipes for a rich stock, kidney and liver paste, Tuscan rabbit ragu and tips on how to best season, grill and braise the meat.

What: Complete Rabbit
Where: for legal reasons this class is being held at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn; once enrolled, we will give you the name and address
When: Sunday, November 15, 1pm-4pm how-to and slaughter; with butchery part of class starting at 7pm at Marlow and Daughter in Brooklyn.
Cost: $100
Number of students: 16 maximum, students will work in pairs with a shared rabbit and then take home half a rabbit.
If you are interested in the class, please email me: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com and I will tell you how to register.

So some might wonder, why is it that in every city I travel to, something has to die?

As an urban farmer I’ve been doing all these things–planting, breeding, harvesting–in the private world of my little farmlette. After being on book tour for a few months (on and off), I came to know that it was possible to just go from town to town doing a power point presentation and never get my hands dirty. This seemed unbearably isolating. In fact, I started calling my physical body “The Carcass” while I was on tour. As in, The Carcass boards plane at noon, then is on book panel at 3pm. Fed Carcass dinner, early to bed, then meet for coffee with a local newspaper writer where Carcass says tantalizing things about urban farming movement.

But, you see, what the carcass really wants to do is hang out with the chefs at the local restaurant, help organize an event with the local food rabblerousers, and perhaps teach a class that will help other urban farmers. So, that was the motivation.

Now that Samin (the chef) and I have been actually teaching the classes, I realized that there is a huge hunger out there for people to connect to their food. Maybe they are raising chickens themselves and want to learn the best practice for culling a rooster. Maybe they have been thinking about raising turkeys but don’t know how to start. Maybe they are disturbed by factory farming and want to know their meat by raising it themselves. All of the people I’ve encountered so far are fired up after our classes. Something as intimidating as processing your own animal suddenly makes sense, it is doable, and here’s the thing–it is kind of beautiful. I remember the first time I learned how to kill a turkey. It opened my eyes to the entire world. I suddenly saw connections between me and my ancestors. I felt connected and reverential for the animals we eat. I also felt skilled and useful. It makes me proud to pass that feeling on. And so, I do.

If you can’t do the rabbit class, I’ll be at the following places in New York City:

November 10, Presentation. Horticultural Society of New York, 6pm

November 11, Reading. Vox Pop cafe, 1022 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY, 7pm

Hope to meet you soon…If I start to look like a carcass, slap me!

Inland Empire Report (and calling Kansas City!)

Oh lordy, things are really hopping here. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but there’s a really neat video that Chow.com did about me and my goats, it’s called Novella Carpenter’s backyard is a pigsty. Which is true in many ways. check it out here.

I just flew in from a few days in the Inland Empire, aka, Eastern Washington and Idaho, where I was doing a series of public talks and supporting a great new coop grocery store in Spokane. Moscow was very special because so many of my mom’s homesteading friends from back in the day came to listen to my stories about their stories. Fun. Someone at the pre-reading dinner said, “this is like meeting characters from a novel!” There they were–Barb, Phil, Lowell, Mary, and Fran–all so excited and supportive of my writing. I can’t express how great this made me feel.

After the reading I got the chance to talk to Lowell, the beekeeping “character” in Farm City. He doesn’t keep them anymore–foulbrood and equipment failure–but he still farms out on his land, growing corn and keeping chickens, has a few horses. I have fantasies of a “family” reunion in Orofino come August. Lowell said he’d make the chicken, which, if I remember correctly, involves vinegar, poultry seasoning, and a slow roast.

Barb drove me to Spokane. She’s the coolest mother of 20 year olds I’ve ever met, wearing this outrageous raven necklace and pirate stockings. She gave me a bracelet that I’ll treasure forever, which says: Redefine the Impossible. That is pure Barb. I can only dream of being as funny and plain old fun as she is.

Spokane was such a lovely surprise. The downtown is sweet, filled with gorgeous old brick buildings, pastry shops, yummy restaurants, and old classy bars. And did I mention a Dick’s Drive-in? Amazing fries. I did a rabbit demo class at a nice resto called Sante. The chefs prepared rabbit in various ways, and about 40 people were served a rabbit tasting menu–terrine, stew, confit, and an incredible cassoulet with green garbanzo beans. After eating, there was a rabbit butchery demo. Everyone gathered around a whole rabbit and a wise old rabbit farmer took it apart and made suggestions for cooking. I talked about my adventures in raising rabbits, and made people look at photos of rabbits having sex. What was especially cool about the dinner was the diners were all quite seriously considering raising rabbits, or wanting to get in touch with their food in a meaningful way. And they wanted to support local farmers and the broader community. It was like a little town, but with good coffee.

And a great bookstore. With total rabbit breath, I snuck up to Aunties, an impressive indie bookstore in the heart of Spokane and did a reading, with one of the sweetest, warmest audiences I’ve ever run across. Still, I needed a drink by then, so we headed to a bar/resto called Hill’s that features some tasty food, including locally grown favorites like Rocky Mt. oysters, and camelina seed hummus.

In the morning, I found myself in front of a big audience of community college students, talking about pig heads. They did not seem to mind. On the plane by high noon, wisps of Santa bresola in my carry-on. I had no idea touring would be so f-ing fun…

Which brings me to my next point: imagine this: me and Samin (!), in Kansas City, MO, in only a few days! We’re jumping on a plane to do a reading on Saturday October 24 at the Bad Seed Kitchen. Then Sunday there will be a chicken raising class and culling demo. Which will be hands-on, btw, everyone will have a chicken of their own. Samin will then do a breakdown and a demo on how to cook a home-raised hen (read: older, tough) so that it tastes delicious. Samin and I are going to be like your yoga coach, who will put you in the correct posture while you pluck a chicken, just as an example. If you live in the area, you better get your butt over to the reading and/or the class. More info is available at Bad Seed. Please help us spread the word, I’m not sure how many students have signed up!