Kevin Warnock

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Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal discuss their new book entitled The Essential Urban Farmer

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The Essential Urban Farmer book introduction 'Meetup' event February 29 2012, San Francisco, California

The Essential Urban Farmer book introduction 'Meetup' event February 29 2012, San Francisco, California

One of my favorite authors, Novella Carpenter, has a new book out. It was released December 27, 2011 by The Penguin Press.

Novella Carpenter and her friend Willow Rosenthal wrote The Essential Urban Farmer. This detailed how-to guide for individuals with or without farming experience looks destined to become a classic on the subject of urban farming.

Willow Rosentha and Novella Carpenter February 29 2012 signing their book The Essential Urban Farmer

Willow Rosentha and Novella Carpenter February 29 2012 signing their book The Essential Urban Farmer

At 592 pages, Carpenter joked that the book is so heavy you can use it as a doorstop if needed.

Rosenthal and Carpenter gave a one hour talk this evening, February 29, 2012, at The Women’s Building at 3543 18th Street, No. 8, San Francisco, California 94110 USA. I was familiar with most of what Rosenthal and Carpenter spoke about. Nonetheless, it was fantastic to see them speak and answer audience questions.

Willow Rosenthal founded City Slicker Farms in Oakland, California USA, near San Francisco.

Novella Carpenter began her part of the talk with her infant baby girl nursing from a sling around her shoulder. I had been planning to capture video of her remarks, but I decided that was inappropriate with her baby feeding. After several minutes of talking, she asked a friend to take care of her baby, as I suspect it was just too distracting trying to address a room full of people and feed her baby simultaneously. Carpenter joked that at The Women’s Building the women all sit around breast feeding babies all day.

By that point, I recognized the light was too dim and the conditions too contrasty for a video to be any good. Carpenter was standing in front of a brightly lit video screen, so her face was dark. I decided to skip the video, except for a short clip I shot from the doorway to the room, showing Carpenter, Rosenthal and the audience together, with Carpenter answering a question about bee keeping.

Willow Rosenthal signing The Essential Urban Farmer February 29 2012

Willow Rosenthal signing The Essential Urban Farmer February 29 2012

Rosenthal and Carpenter spent three years writing this book so they could each reduce the perpetual effort they were exerting answering the same questions from their fans. Presumably they now can respond to emails seeking urban farming how-to information by saying “read the manual.” It’s a neat trick they’ll make some money along the way. I very much admire that Willow Rosenthal and Novella Carpenter have created. ┬áLearning to become self sustaining is valuable, and I predict this book will do well commercially and will expand the networks of Carpenter and Rosenthal dramatically. The audience for this book strikes me as different from the audience for Carpenter’s first book, Farm City, which was her delightful and captivating story, not a how-to guide.

As far as I can tell, The Essential Urban Farmer is Rosenthal’s first published book.

The Essential Urban Farmer covers growing vegetables, fruit trees, rabbits, ducks, chickens and goats. It also covers bee keeping.

The Essential Urban Farmer book cover, designed by Janet Hansen. Photograph from janet-hansen.com.

The Essential Urban Farmer book cover, designed by Janet Hansen. Photograph from janet-hansen.com.

The guide has lists of vendors for supplies and information. It turns out there are sellers of bee keeping supplies right in San Francisco. I learned that San Francisco is a great place to keep bees because there are so many types of vegetation here, more so than on a farm in the country, where large expanses of single crops are more common. I learned that bees can and are willing to fly five miles each way to put in their days’ work.

They don’t call them ‘worker bees’ for nothing.

I would be exhausted if I had to walk five miles each way to work each day.

Something tells me bees work 365 days a year. Maybe that’s why colonies are collapsing. I sure would if I tried to work that much. I’m making a joke here, of course. Colony Collapse Disorder looks to be a dramatically serious problem.

Novella Carpenter signing The Essential Urban Farmer Feb 29 2012, San Francisco, California USA

Novella Carpenter signing The Essential Urban Farmer Feb 29 2012, San Francisco, California USA

I came away with an idea for my super green eco bus conversion project. Fruit trees can be trained to be mostly two dimensional. This is done so trees can hug the sides of houses and fences, to save space. But it means I might be able to grow a dwarf apple tree behind my sofa on my coach with the flat side of the tree parallel to the window over the sofa. It would be crazy to be able to reach overhead and pluck an organic apple while reading The Essential Urban Farmer parked by the waterfront and warmed or cooled by the solar panels on the roof.

I told Rosenthal and Carpenter the short version of my plans for my eco vehicle, and they thought it was cool or they were great actors. I first met Novella Carpenter when she spoke at The Commonwealth Club of California January 25, 2011. Carpenter remembered meeting me back then, which was flattering.

Perhaps through the authors of The Essential Urban Farmer I will meet the adventurous souls I am seeking to take my eco bus on the road to spread the word about urban farming and homesteading.

The Essential Urban Farmer has three reviews on Amazon, and they are all five star ratings. Here is what reviewer Reckless Reader had to say:

“This book is the REAL DEAL — Novella and Willow are REAL urban farmers. You can read about it all in Novella’s Farm City, her memoir of taking a rasty vacant lot in funky ghetto West Oakland, California, and turning into a real urban farm — with vegetables, chickens, killer eggs, rabbits, and even, eventually a pig. That book made me wonder if I could really do this kind of thing out in my sprawling backyard. Even though I dont know jack-diddly, really, about how to farm. And you know what — this new book really tells how to do it, from how to pick land (near water, for instance, at least near a hose…), get the right to use the land, and then how to get the soil ready, how to get the right seeds, right through how to kill simple farm animals for food every now and then. It’s fun to read even if you dont want to go the length, but it seems like I am going to be able to do everything I want to do in my backyard, using just this one total REAL DEAL ‘how to’ guide to it all. Wow!”

I took the photographs above at the book signing Rosenthal and Carpenter conducted after their remarks.

I shot these pictures with my Canon 5D Mark II camera set at ISO 5,000. The lighting conditions were poor, and I needed all the light sensitivity I could get. I am pleased with the quality of the images considering how dark it was in that hall. I uploaded the pictures at full resolution. Click on them to see them at their full 21 megapixel resolution.

Janet Hansen designed the cover for The Essential Urban Farmer. I got the photograph of the book from Hansen’s website, which is worth visiting, as she’s a very talented designer.

Written by Kevin Warnock

February 29th, 2012 at 11:00 pm