Remember my neighbor, Novella? She wrote a book called Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer. It’s a very worthwhile read. I finished it last week, just in time to relish in her open house/farm tour yesterday.
She lives less than two miles away from me, in a grittier section of Oakland where abandoned lots have yet to be converted into upscale condos. The lot that sits next to Novella’s apartment on 28th Street is an exception. Not only is it not abandoned, it’s alive! It’s a squashblossomingbeebuzzingchickenscratchinggoatmilking urban farm. Yes, on top of the fruits and veggies that abound, there are honey bees and chickens and goats. I hadn’t seen goats since La Ferme Belmont. I love that I was reacquainted with the animal in a narrow alleyway inside a chain-link fence “on a dead-end street in the ghetto.” Not in Marin County or in a petting zoo, thank you very much.
I brought my copy of Farm City for Novella to sign. I almost kept it in my bag. I didn’t want to approach her. I felt like a dork. But James gently asked the question, “What do you have to lose?” And he was right. I had nothing to lose. So, I handed Novella my copy of her book, told her that I’d really enjoyed it and mentioned that we’re neighbors. Next thing I know, we’re talking about my cheesing life in France, animal rennet versus vegetable rennet, and the vast differences goat diet can make in the final flavor of the cheese. I walked away from GhostTown Farm with a signed copy of Farm City – For Annie – Welcome to the Bay! – and an offer on the table to help Novella make goat cheese anytime.
There’s a page in the book that I marked because it paints a vivid picture and it makes me laugh.
Bill took the overland route instead of the highway. As we cruised up MLK, I reacquainted myself with the sprawling garbage, the boys pulling shopping carts, the drug dealers on the corners. I had only been gone for ten days, the GhostTown looked grittier than I remembered…When we pulled up to our house, I suddenly had a fear: Was my diamond in the rough actually a cubic zirconia in a pile of shit? Had I been deluding myself? I pushed past the gate to the garden. The air that greeted me smelled fresh and clean. Even though it was dark, I knelt to examine the lettuces growing in the raised beds; they were sturdy and vibrant. I sniffed at the sweet peas that sprawled up a trellis. The garlic shoots, I was pleased to see, had grown a few inches. Yes, yes, this was a worthwhile project.
For me, GhostTown Farm came alive yesterday. It wasn’t glamorous. It was exactly what it claimed to be – a farm on a vacant lot in the ghetto that is loved. It is a diamond in the rough, ripe with tomatoes and zucchini and hope.