Category Archives: field trips

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!

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.

ardenwood

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.

ardenpig

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.