“I used to think, If we could just grow enough organic kale for everyone, we’d all be okay,” says Novella Carpenter, whose
2009 best-selling memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, chronicled her adventures and misadventures in guerrilla gardening on a vacant lot adjacent to her home, dumpster diving
for pig feed, and axing her first turkey—all in the name of subsistence farming. “Now I think that more than vegetables, here
in Oakland we need jobs. Urban farming offers entrepreneurial options: Keep bees, sell honey.”
Half the humor—and revelation—in her book is that, due to overly strict zoning codes, many of the inner-city farm activities she undertook were illegal. In 2011, the city of Oakland cited her for growing and selling vegetables from the vacant lot without a permit.
Since that time, some ordinances have changed, but battles remain around backyard livestock—not just chickens but also rabbits, goats, turkeys, and bees, which have been growing in popularity in no small part because of Carpenter’s book. The author now wants to protect the rights of omnivorous urban farmers. “I’m not some kind of suave political operator,” she says. But “my farm and the use permit that I got are templates for the new livestock laws taking shape in Oakland now.”