Berkeley Bites: Novella Carpenter

Each Friday in this space food writer Sarah Henry asks a well-known, up-and-coming, or under-the-radar food aficionado about their favorite tastes in town, preferred food purveyors and other local culinary gems worth sharing.

Novella Carpenter grows greens and raises rabbits, goats, chickens, and bees on a dead-end street in the ghetto. The dumpster diver and salty-mouthed author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (paperback due out May 25) has cultivated land for the past six years at her Ghost Town Farm, a sunny, squat lot in Oakland, next to her coral-colored home — complete with a back porch covered in goat poop — where she lives win mechanic boyfriend Bill and a menagerie of so-called edible pets.

Novella, 37, is also a founding member of the worker-owned cooperative BioFuel Oasis on Sacramento Street at Ashby Avenue in Berkeley. The five biodevas (the spelling is a nod to forest spirits) who run the place describe it as “the most sustainable filling station in the nation.” BioFuel Oasis also sells farm animal feed, beekeeping supplies, and other urban homesteading gear, and offers urban farming classes, including how to raise city animals, keep bees, and harvest rainwater. Novella’s next goat-keeping class, scheduled May 9, is full.

She is working on a how-to guide to urban farming and a memoir about her father. Novella is one of 30 women changing the way we eat profiled in Temra Costa’s new book, Farmer Jane.

1. Do you have a local food hero?

Jim Montgomery of Green Faerie Farm. He inspired me to get goats. He has a beautiful urban farm in West Berkeley, and has been there for twenty years or so. He’s a math teacher in “real” life, but at home he takes his dairy goats out for a walk, feeds his rabbits, tends to his beehives. He’s not trying to capitalize on his farm, he’s just there, doing what he does — and enjoying the fruits of his labor.

2. Where’s your favorite place in town to get food for the farm animals?

I enjoy cutting water-sucker branches off the liquid amber trees that run along Market Street in South Berkeley. The goats love them and I’m helping the tree (and the Berkeley grounds-keepers) out.

3. Do you have a favorite Berkeley eatery?

I love Guerilla Cafe – such a good vibe.

4. Where do you take out-of-town visitors interested in food?

Berkeley Bowl. It’s easy to get used to having access to all the food there, but go to any other city and it’s just not the same — the variety in the produce area, the bulk section, those crazy cheap bagged veggies they’re trying to get rid of. Awesome!

5. What’s missing in the Berkeley food scene?

I wish Berkeley had something like San Francisco’s Underground Farmers Market, or Oakland’s Pop-Up General Store.

Sarah Henry is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post and San Francisco Magazine. A contributor to the food policy blog Civil Eats, she muses about food, family and growing greens on her blog lettuce eat kale.

If you have an idea for a Berkeley Bites interview, send your suggestion to sarahhenry0509@gmail.com or leave a comment here.

To read previous Berkeley Bites profiles click here.

[Photo: Sarah Henry]

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  • Max Denner

    Guerilla Cafe, not Gorilla.

    http://www.guerillacafe.com/

  • http://lettuceeatkale.wordpress.com/ Sarah Henry

    Eek! That’s an embarrassing one, especially since I just wrote about the place in a previous Berkeley Bites. Will fix & thanks for the quick catch.

  • Jeremy Giels

    Hi, Enjoyed the interview and loved the book and even went to youtube and saw some video of you, Ms. Carpenter.
    Thank you for bringing this into the acceptable mainstream cultural change.
    With Peak Oil and Climate Change we will be turning to this more and more ourselves.
    Anyway, I always wonder approximately what percent of your total food intake was from at home production for your household?
    Thank you, Ms. Henry, for an inspiring story!

  • http://lettuceeatkale.wordpress.com/ Sarah Henry

    Hi Jeremy,

    I ran your question by Novella and here is her response:

    hey jeremy;

    thanks for the question. food security is a big issue, and so i have done stunts where i eat exclusively on my farm. see my blog, http://www.novellacarpenter.net for a blow-by-blow of those experiences (filed under stunts, i believe).

    but quickly: i can live off my farm exclusively, but i choose not to because that isn’t the point of being an urban farmer. the point is to share with others, which quickly stops when i get into “survival” mode. if every block had an urban farm, i think we could probably provide everyone with a bare minimum of vegetables and fruit. grains and meat and milk probably need to come from peri-urban or rural farms.

  • Jeremy Giels

    Thanks for the update and I will review the blog…
    I like the response about sharing…that’s what permaculture is all about and we’ll need to when our “age of plenty” of oil, money and stuff is replaced by hopefully another of creating “gardens of eden”!

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  • http://lettuceeatkale.wordpress.com/ Sarah Henry

    Seriously spelling challenged on this one folks, apologies. Have just discovered that it is Green Faerie Farm not Green Fairy Farms as originally written. Corrected above. At least I got the biodevas right this time around.