Category Archives: field trips

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!

Turkey Class: Austin, Texas

Welp, I’m going to do it. Teach a turkey raisin’ and killin’ class in Austin. The day before I go on a panel with Jonathan Safran Foer, vegetarian author of Eating Animals (and two great novels). There’s another guy on the panel who will be talking about how local food and eating meat is just all wrong. Don’t think I don’t recognize a paradox: I’m the nutball Californian coming to Texas where I will be the only gal (ahem) on stage promoting meat eating. 

It is fitting, then, that while I’m in Texas, I’m going to revisit the first meat bird I raised: the all-American turkey. A small-scale, locally raised, heritage breed turkey embodies all of the issues I grappled with as a blossoming urban farmer: why eat meat? can I kill it myself? how does this turkey feel about this process? how does this make me more or less human?

But this time, come October 31, I’m going to teach other people how to do it. I’ve taught this class before: last year, to a group of college students who were learning about urban farming. The feedback I got was powerful: the students had a new understanding of Thanksgiving, of what it means to eat meat. One of the students was a vegan, and I respected him so much for coming to see exactly what he opposed and to figure out why. I think that’s great. I do think people should eat less meat. And I think it’s good to take a really close look. 

I’m lucky that my brilliant and wonderful friend happens to be an urban farmer in Austin, and she raises heritage breed turkeys on her farm! She has graciously offered her urban farm as a place to host a class. And so, if you are in Austin, or know someone in Austin, please sign up or spread the word; details follow. 

The Complete Turkey

Saturday, Oct 31, 10am-1pm

For meat eaters, raising turkeys is a dare, a stunt, a Herculean effort. The turkey is the most American of birds—native to North America, eaten by Indians, Aztecs, and pilgrims. Most people, come November, eat a Thanksgiving turkey without really knowing what a turkey looks or acts like, much less all the work that goes into raising one of these birds for the table.  In this class, we will show best practices for raising your own Thanksgiving turkey, including feeding, coop construction, breeding, and day to day care.

Following these basics, we will “harvest” a heritage breed turkey. Novella will demonstrate a humane, fool-proof method of dispatching a turkey, including plucking and cleaning. Seeing this process firsthand will make your upcoming Thanksgiving more meaningful than ever.

What: Complete Turkey, Oct 31

How much: $30/person

Time: 10am-1pm; 3 hours total

Attending: 15 max

Where: East Austin, address given upon registration.

About the Instructor Novella Carpenter is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (the Penguin Press, June 2009). She farms on a 4500 square foot abandoned lot near downtown Oakland and has been raising farm animals in urban areas for over ten years. Her writings have appeared in Mother Jones, Food and Wine, salon.com, and more. She studied with Michael Pollan for two years at University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

To sign up, email novellacarpenter@gmail dot com for further instructions.turkey1

Ardenwood

People often ask me about urban farms in the Bay Area. I’ve become like a robot and recite all the well-known ones: City Slicker Farms, People’s Grocery, and SOL (sustaining ourselves locally–not shit outta luck) in the East Bay; Alemany in SF. I’ve repeatedly forgotten to mention Ardenwood! It’s a 205 acre urban farm right off I-880, at the Newark exit in Fremont. I guess it’s really a suburban farm. But I did want to see it!

Now, I must admit that I almost never go to Fremont even though I hear there’s really good Indian food there. I hate driving on I-880 ever since Bill got in a car accident there and no one stopped to see if he had been injured–bastards! But when Dan from Bay Nature Magazine (where I was an intern a few years back) suggested that we go together and learn about threshing wheat and pet some pigs, and that he would drive, I was game. I had heard rumours of sheep shearing and canning workshops, so I wanted to see if this place would be the ultimate resource for urbanites who wanted to learn how to farm.

When we drove up, we saw signs for the farm, and were reminded that it is part of the East Bay Regional Park District. Dan told me they get 160,000 visitors every year, a similar number as other hotspots like Chabot Science Center and the Oakland Museum. In the fields, which were flat and long, there were rows and rows of crops like corn, pumpkins, squash, broccoli. It was the biggest sub-urban farm I’ve ever seen! As we drove closer to the houses and barn areas, the place suddenly started to take on a historic quality. I spotted a draft horse and a blacksmith’s shop, a granary, and a Victorian house with peacocks pecking out front.

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The ranger, Ira Bletz, took us for a tour. First stop was the impressive fields. Most of these are maintained by an organic farmer named Doug Perry, but the Park plants wheat, corn, pumpkins, and potatoes for educational purposes. School kids visit and help harvest wheat (they learn how difficult it is without modern machines), and at the annual Harvest Fest (Oct 10-11), they have a corn harvest, sending everyone out into the fields to pick cobs to take home.

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We got to meet their two pigs, the handful of chickens, three turkeys, a few goats and sheep who inhabit the farm. My head swam with how much potential the place had! If one was motivated, they could have at least three dairy cows–they could have a milking coop and make cheese; or they could bred meat goats (which are so popular now); or they could raise rabbits for restaurants (the ones they have are rescue bunnies from a shelter); or teach canning classes. All of these things would be a huge hit with the local foodie people.

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I know why, though, they aren’t doing anything like I fantasized: people. You would need at least 5 people working full time on the farm to get all that work done, and products sold. These people would have to live on the farm to make it truly come to life. What was missing was the stuff of everyday life: the compost from a day of eating going to the pigs; the milk buckets and dairy paraphernalia; a curing ham or side of bacon that would have given it a more f0od connection. But if you were living and working on a farm, you wouldn’t have time to deal with visitors, you wouldn’t have the bandwidth to talk with groups of 4th graders. So here’s an idea: all you people who live in the Fremont area and know how to farm or want to set up a dairy cow co-op or start rearing milk goats, give Ira a call. If you want to teach a cheese-making class or a bacon curing workshop, call Ira. I’m willing to bet they would work with you. Because really, it takes all of our input–and effort–to create a more sustainable way of life.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are already wonderful things about the farm. The corncrib area is really cool and features an old machine that pulls off the corn kernels; the old outdoor kitchen is inspiring, the heirloom veggie garden has potential, and the blacksmith shop is functional. It is a great place to take kids 10 or younger to have their first experience petting a goat or a pig. The Harvest Fest is a really big deal, and it is a great opportunity for everyone to learn about harvesting food and make a connection to the land.

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For the second part of our tour, we went to Doug Perry’s veggie growing operation. Doug is the real deal, a hard-working farmer who grows 55 acres of veggies on the park land, where he sells his crops to Berkeley Bowl and a local veg distributor. He’s figured out his crop: broccoli and cauliflower, and grows a shit ton of it. Doug didn’t paint any romantic portrait of farming; he explained that it is hard work, a living, but that it prevents him from spending time with his children. He doesn’t have too much time to take school kids out for tours and leaves most of that up to Ira.

As Dan and I drove away, we stopped at the produce stand and bought some cauliflower. While I was slow-cooking the marvelous white veggie, it struck me that Perry Farms and Ardenwood are like the Yin and Yang of farming–Perry does the growing, Ardenwood does the educating, and perhaps they do balance each other out.

You should go to the Harvest Fest and score some free corn!

Oct 10 and 11

34600 Ardenwood Blvd, Fremont, Ca 94555

510.544-2797

Here’s an article from Bay Nature all about growing food on public land.