Category Archives: travel

Things I Learned in France

frenchbountyI returned to the United States early this week, jet lagged and haggard. Billy picked me up in Miami and we went directly to the Calle Ocho–which is where the best Cuban food in America is made. We then drove back to Orlando where another plane would take us back to San Francisco. Our bellies full of Chicken with Yellow Rice and Cubano sandwiches, we cruised down the highway in a Lincoln Continental (the car of Bill’s mom). As we drove, the band Denegue Fever rocked our world, and a lightening storm started. I’ll admit it: I always feel relieved when I return to the United States. Everything feels so ad hoc and jumbled, for good and bad, I suppose.

But: France. And the untrammeled loveliness that is the Corbieres region where my sister lives. That is something. I could brag about the amazing farmers markets, the bread, and the wine that I had the chance to experience. What really moved me, this trip, was the natural abundance found in the hills around their tiny village.

My sister, of the blog These Days in French Life, documents the bounty of this place very well. To experience it firsthand is another thing entirely. I came during the vendange when all the tractors are rolling through the villages, carts stacked with grapes going to press. The workers (who are paid about 10 euros an hour) become dusty and covered with grape juice. One day, we ventured out to pick grapes in a field long abandoned, so the grapes had gone wild. Oh, their sweet dusky fruit! Along the way, we stopped at almond trees and picked the nuts. Later, we went to the Med and trolled for clams, which Riana then made into an amazing dinner, cooking them with wine and cream. I started to have delusions that I could just move to France and wander, gypsy-like from harvest to harvest, living off the land. Bill and I might just do that next September, on bikes.

Being an ever-alert farmer, I did want to learn a few tricks, that’s one of the greatest things about traveling. I learned the following:

-At the honey shop where they had a bee demonstration and this foxy French beekeeper explained how bees make honey and how they then harvest it,  I finally figured out how a professional cuts the cappings off a frame of honey. Instead of laying it facedown on a flat surface (like I’ve been doing for years), they have an anchored metal tip where they balance the frame while decapping. Genius!

-At the farmer’s market (where I bought some amazing saucissons and some of that pink rose garlic (Rose du Tarn)–do they sell that in the States?), there were vendors selling vegetable starts. No big deal, but it was how they sold them that I liked. Instead of using 6 packs like here, they simply had an entire tray of seedlings, and you would buy how many you wanted. Like 20 lettuce plants. They would then cut them out of the soil, count them and put them in a bag. Or, there was a lady selling leeks–50 for 3 euros. She would pluck them directly out of the plug trays, then bundle them for you to take home. So elegant and efficient!

-Riana and I went to visit a rabbit farmer, and I was really psyched about her rabbit feeding procedure and fattening runs. Since this farmer lady and her husband grow all their own food, including the animal feed, they didn’t ever buy pellets for the bunnies (which has been bothering me lately about my operation). Instead, they fed them on dried alfalfa (lovely green, leafy stuff), wild fennel, and a grain ration which was barley and oats. That’s it! The rabbits were healthy and large. The baby rabbits were left with their mothers until two months, when they were moved to giant runs–12 feet by 4 feet–a litter in each run where they fattened and got some exercise.

We took a rabbit home from the farmer lady, and that next morning I showed Riana and her neighbor my fail-proof method for killing, skinning, and cleaning a rabbit. It was very cyclical, because I first was inspired to keep rabbits because my sister lives in France, and now I was passing on what I had learned a few years later.

Now that I’m back in the States, although the general vibe is so different from France, the principles are the same: find the bounty, savor it, learn from it, and share it.


Coming to a Town Near You: Update

So, I’m heading out on vacation in a few hours. Billy and I are flying to Florida, then I’ll go over to France. I’ll be back in the urban farming saddle September 29. We were lucky to find a housesitter and our downstairs neighbors will make sure the goats get fed and watered. We also have a mighty milking list with all my kind friends who are going to squeeze Bebe’s teats while I’m gone. Whew, what a relief. It’s so hard to tear myself away but I really really need to rest.

When I come back, I’m glad to report that this October and November, I’ll be visiting many cities to promote my book Farm City. Dates in italics are not yet filled, and I have put requests for places I want to go, so drop a line, and we’ll see if I can spread out a little more. I might want to sleep on your couch or goat shed…

October 5, Corte Madera, CA, Reading, Book Passages book store, 7pm

October 8, Madison, Wisconsin, Reading, Wisconsin Book Festival, A Room of One’s Own, at 307 W. Johnson Street, 5:30.

October 9, Chicago: visit with urban farmers!

October 10, Chicago: visit with urban farmers!

October 17, San Francisco, Reading, LitQuake at 18 Reasons, time TBA

October 18, Berkeley, CA, Chicken 101 class, Biofuel Oasis, 1441 Ashby Ave, 10-1pm (must pre-register)

October 19, Moscow, ID,  Reading, University of Idaho, Administration Building Auditorium, 7pm

October 20 & 21, Spokane, WA

October 24, Kansas City, Reading, Bad Seed Kitchen

October 25, Kansas City, Complete Chicken class, TBA 10am-1pm

October 31, Austin, Texas, The Complete Turkey class, 10-2, venue TBA

November 1, Austin, Texas, Austin Book Festival panelist, details TBA

November 10, New York, NY; Horticultural Society of New York, 6pm
148 West 37th Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY, Telephone: 212.757.0915

November 11, Brooklyn, NY, Vox Pop Cafe, details TBA

November 12, Providence, RI, details TBA

November 13, Boston, Mass, details TBA

November 14, Portland, Maine, details TBA

November 15 & 16, NYC chicken and rabbit processing classes with Samin, details TBA

November 21, Sacramento, CA, The Complete Chicken/Reading, details TBA

December 5, Berkeley, CA The Pasta Shop, 4th Street, 1-3pm

December 6, Lafayette, CA, Mt. Diablo Nursery, 10-12

Thank you everyone who helped organize this, especially Hamida!

Coming to a Town Near You?

I wish I had the gumption (and could convince the goats, rabbits, hens, and bees) to load up into a car and drive around the US of A to promote urban farming. Based on some of the comments you’ve sent from places like DC, Philly, San Diego, and Boston, I would be welcomed with open arms. That sure is a good feeling. I was in Los Angeles yesterday and couldn’t believe how many people were into urban farming and wanted to show me their farms and learn more about what I’ve been up to–but there just wasn’t enough time.

And so hatched the DIY Farm City Tour idea.

My dear publisher paid for me to go to Seattle, Portland, New York, and Los Angeles. But I want to see what’s doing in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, St. Paul, etc, etc, etc–I want to see urban farms all over America! But how will I pay for that?

That’s where you come in. If you’d like me to come to your town, please send me an email at novella.carpenter at gmail, or just comment belo with ideas. Let me know if you’d like me to teach a class about chickens, rabbits, or just give a reading from my book. Include the names of bookstores or spaces where workshops could happen in your town. I’m targeting October as the perfect month for the DIY tour.

In a nugget:

What: Novella in your town, teaching or talking about urban farming

How: She’ll need to raise money to cover airfare (you and your friends have to promise to put money in the hat or hold a fundraiser or charge for a cool class that I’ll teach)

How 2: She’ll sleep on your couch

Where: urban farms in your city, bookstores, master gardener classes, universities even

When: October-November

Please send me proposals, ideas, criticism, as soon as possible so I can start contacting venues and setting up dates. The ideal is to pair up with a local bookstore so they can sell copies of my book.


Can’t wait to meet you! And yes, that is a fake smile that I promise not to make when I’m in your town.

New York, New York

Fun fact: I once was a maid in New York City. Well, Park Slope. If my employers could only see my kitchen floor now–all spotted with sauerkraut drippings, goat berries, and drifts of straw–actually, they would not be surprised at all because I was a terrible, awful, sad, underpaid, lonely maid. When I last spent real time in NYC, I had been broke, kind of gimpy from a bike accident, and utterly overwhelmed by the city.

Last week I returned to the city that nearly killed me! Still broke, but walking fine, and no, not overwhelmed at all. I used to think the goal in New York was to look like I knew what I was doing: to know which side of the subway door to depart from, to walk with real purpose, to never appear lost. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, but this time around, none of that mattered. I was happily confused to ride the Air Train and not know how to pay. I was glad to repeatedly miss the free Ikea ferry to Red Hook. I often walked in circles in the Lower East side, and even ate at a terrible, fake “diner” where I paid too much for coffee and a bad (even in NYC!) bagel.

I was in New York to promote my book for two days, just a quick in and out. I had the fun experience of running (in clogs) down Avenue of the Americas because I was late to a talk at Bryant Park. It was a green panel discussion held during the lunch hour. I barely made it there by 12:30, gently sweating as I met my fellow panelists, the guy from Terracycle, an editor from Edible Brooklyn, and an environmentalist author of Sleeping Naked is Green. A business suit guy yelled when he heard the title of her book and came up to her during the panel discussion so she could sign his copy of the book. I talked about children growing carrots, and somehow, pot.

That night, I ventured into Brooklyn, a place where I had washed sheets and scrubbed counters, stolen cheese, subsisted on peanut butter. My reading was on a rooftop farm in Greenpoint. The farmer, Ben, is the real deal. He has 6,000 square feet of vegetables performing mightily: eggplants, cucs, tomatoes, herbs. They sell to restaurants and at a farm stand. The roof was treated like any green roof, Ben explained, many layers, membranes, water collection/diversion channels. But instead of planting grasses and flowers, they hauled in tons of compost, mixed it with perlite, and created French intensive-style beds to grow veggies.

The farm is above the Brooklyn Kitchen, a retro kitchenware store and place that teaches classes about such things as cheesemaking and canning. They set up a table and handed out bread with goat cheese and fresh vegetables from the garden. I had my prosciutto with me and shaved off bits to share with the 40 or so people. Then I read some from my book, looking out at the Manhattan skyline whenever I dared glance up from the pages. It did feel like a victory. To come back to a place that had kicked my ass, to return as a published author, and to be reading to a rapt audience.

That night I had insomnia and called Bill to remind him to make sure the male rabbit had enough water. It was 4:45am in New York, only 2am in Oakland. “Are you awake?” I asked. “I was just about to fall asleep!” Bill yelled. I told him I had remembered about the rabbit, and was worried because it had been so hot out, and then hung up. I still couldn’t go to sleep. I could hear New York waking up in my hotel on 54th Street, the big trucks rumbling around, the tour buses gearing up for another day on the town. Maybe I was nervous because later that day, I was going to go on the Leonard Lopate show, a live radio show at WNYC, and then I would fly home.

Later that day, while I answered Lopate’s questions, I tripped out that I was here, in NYC, telling people about Oakland, about my little farm, my daily chores, what the neighbors thought of me (I still don’t really know), what animals I had now, and who was taking care of the animals in my absence. I had a rush of total sadness, as I recited the things doing in the East Bay. And when I returned home late Friday night, the first thing I did was go out to the goats, corraled them into the sleeping area, shut the gate, made plans for morning milking, and felt a sudden relief as if I had been holding my breath in New York the whole time I was there.

Tour recap

A wise person advised me to keep a journal about my book tour–writing down the names of people I met, things I saw, and questions that were asked. Of course I didn’t do it. Much to my regret.

Here’s what I remember, very hazily: Flew to Portland and went to KBOO for a radio interview (never heard it). Dinner at Paley’s Place (rabbit raviolis) with my uncle and aunt (delish). Met up with Lana and Bill at my hotel. So good to see her. She brought her grandmother’s  tweezers. Which we employed that next morning as I had to go on Northwest AM–a television show–and couldn’t do so with my beard. Lana also cut my hair that morning, to the horror of room service. Met an urban farmer in Portland randomly (we just drove up, she came outside and gave us a tour). Her garden–Kung Fu Farm–put mine to shame. To shame! Lots of chickens. Read at Powell’s to a nice audience and offered people prosciutto (if they bought a book!).

Bombed into Seattle around 1:20am after my reading in Portland. Billy was demanding Dick’s burgers, so we stopped in and had a deluxe and milkshake. Stayed on my friend’s floor for the next three days. Read at the beautiful Town Hall. Met people from Grist. Rode my friend’s bike to Third Place Books. Interview with KUOW. Ate Thai food. Did a conversation/dinner/chocolate reading with Warren Etheridge. We mostly talked about growing pot. He’s great.

Went to my hometown of Shelton where I recuperated and my mom fed me in between naps. Her rural town garden is really going great guns, and she’s thinking about bees. Flew home the next day. Arrived home to see that our landlord painted the house pink and red, the goats were thirsty, and the garden just looked okay compared to what I had seen in the great Northwest.

Also: took zero photos. I’m an ass.

Tomorrow, July 1 (rabbit, rabbit) I’ll be on It’s Your Call with Rose Aguilar at 10am on KALW (call in with some love, ok?), then reading at Green Arcade books on Market, a new awesome bookstore filled with green living and nature titles.  It’s right by Zuni. 7pm.

July 2, I’ll be at Copperfields in Sebastopol. Might bring my extractor and do a demo.

Finally, Michael Jackson: RIP. I really loved you. And I’m so sorry.

Heading out

Here’s my list of crap to do before I catch the plane to Portland, Ore:

-milk goats

-plant seedlings

-deep water the garden

-wax chin (I have a near beard right now)

-pack prosciutto (yes, i’m bringing meat to share at the Portland reading)

It’s really hard to leave the farm, even for six days so I’ve been running around buying alfalfa for the goats, moving the rabbits from the deck to the garden, and trying to find some clothes that aren’t filthy. Thank the gods for my downstairs neighbors, who will be milking and feeding and caretaking while I’m gone.

To add to the pressure, there’s some weird guys painting our house. My landlord, who is a sweet but naive guy hired the most ghetto painters. They didn’t put down anything to catch the paint chips, for example, so I have flecks of gray paint in the garden, in the chicken/goat area. It’s just awful. They painted the rabbit area but didn’t spray it down or ask me to clean it up so there are literally white-painted rabbit turds. It’s kind of funny how bad it is.

Whenever I leave, though, it’s kind of like dying. I imagine what it will be like when one day I’m not here to feed the goats their favorite treat of jade plant. How the garden will get parched and sickly in the summer; overgrown and weedy in the winter. I find myself trying to control my absence by writing lists and notes, putting out individual buckets of foraged branches for the goats for every day I’m gone. I resent leaving, a little. This is prime gardening season and I still need to stake my tomatoes, monitor my cucs and green beans!

Last night I harvested all the beets from the garden. And ate lettuce I had planted more than a month ago. I picked all the sour cherries off the tiny little tree in the garden and made a clafoutis using eggs and milk from GT Farm. I left the pits in, just like my sister told me. Then I finished the last of the rabbit rillettes Chris Lee made. I had a beer with the downstairs neighbors and sliced some prosciutto for them. I feed the rabbits and then went out to the goat area and put them to bed.

When I came back inside, I set up our cat Kuzzin’s food and water station. I’m going to miss him so much. In our laundry room, the bones of the prosciutto are hanging by a bike hook. They look so rad, so rural. I’m reminded that good things take time: these hung for 18 months in Chris Lee’s restaurant. They require no refrigeration at this point. They smell of such delicious meat–the smell of hard work, captured and made immortal.

Since the bones are essentially ham bones, I’m planning on making some serious red beans and rice–when I get return to GT Farm. There’s comfort knowing that when I return, Kuzzin will be happy, the bees won’t notice, the rabbits will rejoice, the chickens will cluck and crouch, the goats will act like they didn’t care that I was gone, and I’ll get to eat once again from the farm.


Merry f-ing Christmas

Yesterday I felt all Scrooge-like about xmas. but then after a shift at the Oasis, the biofuel station I run with some friends, suddenly my heart was filled with goodwill and joy. Our custies are so wonderful and happy! I came home and made some spicy tomato soup and baked lime bars for our loyal customers. Then I packed some olives to give as gifts. Then I squeezed on Bebe’s teats and tried to get a whisper of milk out of her.


I went up to Lake County and picked up the goats last week. Of course it started snowing. Of course I had no heater and only one windshield wiper worked (the wrong one). Bebe and Orla looked like mountain goats. They sprouted some major fur while up north. I got a quick glance at another buck she got to be with–a dark hairy guy who was just adorable. Leah told me Orla’s probably not preggers because she’s a bit young and um, stubborn. I might try to breed her again in March. We packed the goats into a dog crate as the snow swirled down. I drove like a banshee to get home before it got too dark and cold. When I opened up the dog crate, Orla and Bebe were all cozy and warm inside. They smelled like bucks, which is to say, high goat.  They jumped out and ran toward the backyard where they live. It was a joyous homecoming–I really missed having them around.


But I also miss their milk. Bebe isn’t producing much, which Leah said is normal post-breeding. I’ve been milking her twice a day to increase production. The milk tastes bitter and gross–a natural occurence post-breeding, somehow the buck hormones get into the milk. Eventually I’m hoping Bebe will give me her usual sweet, high-fat milk. I sure do miss my morning goat cappuccino.