For decades, books about learning how to grow your own food had a defensive, preachy tone; henny-penny, self-righteous. Going back to the land meant turning your back on modern urban culture.
Two books, one about rediscovering a pastoral way of life, the other about carving out a rural life in an urban ghetto, show how far we’ve come since the reactive post-1960s hostility between urban and rural lifestyles in this country. They prove that there is a middle ground.
Neither author is in the business of converting or convincing. Novelist Brad Kessler and his wife, Dona Ann McAdams, a photographer, just wanted to live in the country and produce their own food (both grew up in the suburbs and knew little about animal husbandry). As he writes in “Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, a Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese” ($24), Kessler was drawn to a pastoral life: “(T)he longer I lived with goats the more connections I saw to a collective human past we’ve since forgotten, here in North America at least.”
“I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto,” writes Novella Carpenter in “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” ($25.95) Carpenter and her boyfriend, Bill, rent an apartment in Oakland, Calif., in a neighborhood known as GhostTown. They plant a garden; raise bees, ducks, turkeys, chickens, geese, rabbits and finally pigs on the 4,500-square-foot lot out back.
These are lighthearted, hopeful books. Reading them one can almost imagine an American landscape of linked communities, rural and urban, eating locally grown food, trading in farmers markets.
Kessler and Carpenter, with their humor and their step-by-step clarity, make it seem utterly possible to grow the kind of food you want to eat, wherever you live. It’s not about politics anymore. You don’t have to go back to the land. You’re already there.