Monday, August 31, 2009

A Tour of Ghost Town Farm

If it wasn't for Novella Carpenter, we here at Itty Bitty would never know the satisfaction of raising urban goats. I vividly recall the evening some six months ago when I happened upon her blog whilst perusing that infinite maze we call the interweb in search of more info on raising chickens in the city. You see, even though we'd planned on getting chickens for over a year, the Disgruntled Farmhand never wanted the cluck clucks. Whenever the topic would come up, he would spat, "They smell. I want a goat." To which I would retort, "I would LOVE to have a goat too, but we can't have one in the city. We COULD have fresh eggs though." And then low and behold, I stumbled, or more accurately "Googled", upon Novella's Ghost Town Farm in Oakland. She had goats. A few of them. I could scarcely breathe I was so beside myself with glee, reckoning that if she could keep goats in Oaktown, I could certainly attempt it on the other side of the bay. I shouted to the DF, who was in another room getting his Internet crack on, "HONEY, WE CAN HAVE GOATS!" His sheepish, laden with child-like joy reply was barely audible, "Really?" And so began our little adventure.

Novella recently published City Farm, a book about her foray into raising livestock and gardening in an urban environment. I anxiously waited weeks for it to come into print and devoured it as soon as it arrived. The story is a fascinating look at one woman's attempt to be closer to the source of her food while living in a blighted, urban ghetto. Her pioneering spirit pours forth from every page as she humorously recounts tales as outlandish as raising 2 full sized pigs for slaughter on nothing but compost bin leftovers from Oakland's Chinatown and Berkeley's chic restaurant district. I highly recommend this read, even if you have no interest in raising your own meat or eggs. As well as being a captivating narrative of a new kind of modern urban lifestyle, her enthusiasm for bringing food closer to home is infectious and relevant to our current societal woes of food security, environmental degradation, reliance on foreign oil, and alienation from basic survival skills.

So of course after reading her book and following her blog religiously, I have been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to visit this little patch of citified grange. Lucky me, as a part of Oakland's Eat Real festival, Ghost Town graciously opened its doors for an all day farm extravaganza, which included a chicken slaughter and goat milking demonstration. I would have LOVED to have stayed all day, meeting like-minded folks, sharing ideas, and learning new urban farm tricks (really got to learn how to milk those goats!), but alas it was scorching hot in the East Bay, there were a ton of people in attendance, which was awesome, but made it difficult to hear, and I had an overheated 5 year old at my side who was adamant to know why we needed to look at some lady's goats when we had two perfectly good ones at home. The overbearing midday sun had turned my brain to mush and I was rendered incapable of reasoning with the small set (let's face it, I struggle with that on a good day). So we skipped most of the "official" tour and opted for a self-guided version. The veggie beds that littered the vacant lot adjacent to the house were lush and enviable,

the baby goats were cute as can be as they gorged themselves on alfalfa directly IN the manger,

and Novella, the farm lady herself, was absolutely charming and personable (with great taste in eyeglasses!).

While she was signing books, I approached her with a small gift from Itty Bitty, a jar of lemon apple butter, kicking myself the entire time for not having brought my copy of her book to sign. We briefly talked about goats and I realized in that moment that I have been a bit desperate for community - you know, like personally knowing a couple other folks whom I can talk to about chicken and goat stuff. It took all of my willpower to refrain from ambushing Novella with a million and one question assault of all things related to backyard livestock. I'm hoping that she will have a workshop on goat husbandry in the near future, as I am particularly nervous about that "goats giving birth in my backyard" thing and could use a mentor.

Thank you Novella for your inspiring presence in this world. You are an amazing lady!

And BTW, if any of you out there know of someone who is raising chickens, goats, rabbits, etc. in the city, trying to grow more of their own food, or just interested in this kind of stuff, please send them my way. I'm lonely. Maybe we could have a potluck or something.


  1. What a GREAT read! And I don't think I'm saying that just because you are my daughter! Sorry, I can't discuss chickens and goats and our foray into rabbits wasn't the happiest of our pet you are on your own to find like-minded to potluck with.

  2. Greeeeeeeeeeeeeen acres is the place for me!
    You are so fun to read!

  3. There ae many of us who feel like you. Farming can be quite solitary. For me it is comforting after a day at the office. My wife and I haa small plot in west Berkeley - the maritimes I call it. We have chickens and a small area for vegetables etc. (this area continues to grow every year).

    I would add to your resource list:
    Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book, an Encylopedia of Country Living, my copy was published in 1981 by Bantam Books.

    It's got a little of everything.

  4. Hello there!
    I've got two chickens, one raised bed and a crab apple tree in North Panhandle (SF); I'm starting small, keeping it manageable. Like you, I'm a fan of Novella Carpenter's, however I don't have goats but goat envy. How've your neighbors reacted to your goats?

  5. i'm so lucky, the neighbors don't seem to have a problem with it - they're from china and el salvador. we also have a steep, downward sloping yard and the animals are all at the bottom in an enclosure. even the people living right next to us can't really see that they're there... except when they pop their heads over the fence :)

    maybe one of these days i can meet your chickens. feel free to stop by our farm anytime. we like visitors :)

  6. We've got bees and veggies in east Oakland! We don't have enough of a fence for livestock, and don't want to take on more than we can handle. My sister has had chickens in Brooklyn NY for years.

    We just got this place six months ago, and it was a wreck when we started.