Penguin Speakers Bureau

Novella Carpenter

Freelance Journalist and Author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer and The Essential Urban Farmer

Photo by Paige Green


Novella Carpenter grew up in rural Idaho and Washington State. She studied biology and English at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she had many odd jobs including assassin bug–handler and 16mm projectionist. After moving to California, she attended UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Novella’s writing has appeared in,, (the San Francisco Chronicle’s website), and Mother Jones. Her adventures in urban agriculture began with honeybees and a few chickens, then some turkeys, until she created an urban homestead called Ghost Town Farm near downtown Oakland, where she and her boyfriend, Bill, live today.

Speaking Topics

  • Urban Farming: One Woman’s Story

    Novella Carpenter will present a slideshow about her urban farm, which has featured, over the years, turkeys, bees, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, and goats. Her misadventures in squat farming in the middle of downtown Oakland inspired The New York Times to call her book “easily the funniest, weirdest, most perversely provocative gardening book I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down.” In addition to reading from her book and giving a PowerPoint presentation about the evolution of her farm and her lessons learned, Novella will discuss the history of urban farming in America, the state of the movement today, and what we can learn from urban farmers around the world.

  • Food and Community

    Novella Carpenter is the antidote to high-maintenance foodies. She started urban farming partially because eating organic local food can be prohibitively expensive and is often seen as an elitist pursuit. In Farm City, she writes, “as a poor scrounger with three low-paying jobs and no health insurance, I couldn’t afford the good stuff. Since I liked eating quality meat and have always had more skill than money, I decided to take matters into my own hands.” And so she did, raising turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and even pigs, using thrifty (and sometimes gross) techniques in order to make her pursuit sustainable. She wound up getting an education in gourmet food production along the way, learning how to make duck confit, pancetta, lardo, and roasted heritage turkey. As she will describe in her talk, she also got an education in how hungry her community was, and how she went about to mend that situation. Even the desperately poor people in her area rallied around the farm and helped create an oasis in a blighted neighborhood. Good food, as food justice advocates say, is for everyone. Novella will also talk about how the good food movement is shaping up in the U.S. and is reaching more people than ever before.


Novella Carpenter at Berkeley Arts & Letters

More About This Speaker

Featured Book

The Essential Urban Farmer

"Organic farming in the city is so unexpected--yet it is the surest way to rebuild the vital connection between our food and how it is grown. This lucidly written, encyclopedic volume-which contains everything from homemade fertilizer recipes to chicken coop blueprints-is the single most useful resource I know for all urban dwellers."

– Alice Waters

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