Interview with Oakland Urban Soil Builder and Mother Hen Novella Carpenter by Willi Paul
Been to Ghost Town Farm?
Have you had any hassles with building codes or other intrusions from the City?
None whatsoever. I think they are busy with crime and other issues.
What is localization to you?
I don’t like to preach about local food issues too much, but i hate to shop for things i can grow, so i try to grow as much lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, beans, kale, and chard that i can. it tastes better fresh and is just easier in the long run.
About how much time do you spend out of every 24 hours tending to farm chores?
it depends on the day. some days i spend the whole day cleaning out the rabbit area or the goat run. some days i spend only an hour keeping everyone fed and watered. but i never have a clock ticking, i consider farm work to be like eating or drinking water, i never add it up.
Do you live by candle light Ms. Carpenter?!
No, compact fluorescents.
Do you pickle vegetables? What is your dominant pickle spice?
I do make pickles–salty dilly cucs, and sweet ones too, sometimes the fermented kind. I think the dominant spice is salt, and i love it. I also make sauerkraut from cabbage for my goats. They adore it.
What is a “foodie?”
It’s a word that is much maligned and has elitist overtones. The woman who cooks and sells catfish dinners on my block would never use that word to describe herself. But i guess it means someone who is obsessed with eating good food.
How do you address the price vs. quality debate in the food community?
I shop at grocery outlet–sometimes they have really good quality stuff at bargain prices. I’m cheap and dumpster dive a lot. So price is important. But sometimes I like one of those $2 farmers’ market peaches that are so amazing. It feels good to not always eat those peaches, though, so they remain special.
How do you view the alt consumerist thing at Whole Foods?
I don’t know. sometimes i go there because they’re open late. and believe me, if you’re in Florida, and you find a Whole Foods, you are psyched. We’re spoiled in the bay area so we can deride Whole Foods, but i don’t think they are the enemy.
Have you heard about neighborhoodfruit.com? See my interview here: http://www.planetshifter.com/node/1203. Are you a bartering soul?
Nope, but there are all these cool orgs that are gathering urban fruit trees and redistributing it and i think it’s great. I do like bartering!
Do you like to bake? Pies and cookies? Do you make jam? Can you share a recipe or two with a fellow urbanista from Oakland?!
I like to bake, make apple sauce, can tomatoes and peaches, but it’s usually when there’s some kind of glut that i found on a tree or in a dumpster. One of my favorite things is dehydrated peaches: i just slice them thinly, pop them in a turned-off oven, and let them get brittle. I like simple food. Like when i make applesauce, i just cut up apples with their skin, cook them down with a little water, and can them.
“Organic!” Tell me what this conjures up!
It feels kind of nostalgic. I’m always surprised when people ask me if I’m growing organic–of course I am! It’s not even a consideration to not grow organic.
This whole thing squeeks of Quakerism to me! Good food, kind peeps, rock solid liberal values. Sending fresh eggs over the fence (“Hi-ya Neighbor!”) Tell us about your values and how the farm has challenged them?
Oh, it’s not like that at all in my neighborhood. people brawl in the streets, and there are gun fights. There are shifting identities. but we all just respect each other, forgive, and move on. when I first moved here from Seattle i had this total whitey idea that every person of color was good and noble. Such bullshit!
Can you relay any insight into the evolving mythology of sustainability? Anything go off in your head?
Please see: http://www.planetshifter.com/node/359
I like your interviewing style. Let’s see. Sustainability, I guess for me, is all about capturing the waste stream. we have to reuse things over and over. We have to figure out how different animals, plants, and people can live together and be content.
Sauerkraut Drippings, Goat Berries, and Drifts of Straw First Person Bio:
A child of back-to-the-land hippies, I grew up in rural Idaho and Washington State. I went to University of Washington in Seattle where I majored in Biology and English. I’ve had many odd jobs including: assassin bug handler, book editor, media projectionist, hamster oocyte collector, and most recently, free-lance journalist.
I studied under Michael Pollan at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism for two years. My journalistic work reflects my interests–in farming, food, the environment, and culture. In a nutshell, I like to tell stories about people who follow unconventional paths.
As for the urban farmer in me, I’ve been cultivating the city for over ten years now, and my neighbors still think I’m crazy. It all started with a few chickens, then some bees, until I had a full-blown farm near downtown Oakland. My memoir about this farm was publishing by the Penguin Press June 11, 2009, and is available at most bookstores. If it’s not at your favorite shop–just ask them to order a few copies.