Novella’s Dilemma

Originally posted at American Thinker. blog

Here’s a question for you:  Does Michelle Obama require a “conditional use permit” to share the produce grown in the White House garden?  To sell beets for $2 a bunch, grown and picked from the bountiful urban produce patch, Novella Carpenter of West Oakland, California sure does.

Novella Carpenter took over a vacant lot on a hardscrabble corner of West Oakland eight years ago and turned it into a working farm of vegetables, goats, rabbits and, sometimes, pigs.” Carpenter-turned-gardener “milked goats, made cheese and ate much of the produce.”  Novella even “wrote a popular book, ‘Farm City,’ about the experience and became an icon of the Bay Area’s urban farming movement,” and did so long before farming expert Michelle signed a book deal with Crown Publishing.

The First Lady promotes backyard and community gardening, and plans to write a how-to on cultivating Swiss chard out back – next to the dog run – during a recession. Yet before a crop was even a wayward seed in Michelle’s mulch pile, Ms. Carpenter’s gardening venture had already “ex-seeded” every farming expectation sure to be outlined in Mrs. Obama’s yet untitled but destined to be Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

And Novella needs a permit?

City planner Chris Candell visited Carpenter’s 4,500 square-foot plot and said he “sympathized with Carpenter, but the rules are clear.” Candell emphasized, “If you’re doing this for your own home consumption, this would not be applied.”  Oh yeah!  Wait until the Oprah Book Club follows Michelle’s agrarian lead and the Food Safety Modernization Act “puts focus on safety” by regulating produce seeds to ensure homegrown cucumbers are safe for human consumption.

Regardless, even a city planner can’t deny that Carpenter is a woman with pluck and ingenuity.  Novella “taught herself to grow food and raise livestock” and went “dumpster diving in Oakland’s Chinatown to feed her pigs and learned how to butcher from top chefs.”  The urban farmer even raised and made rabbit potpies and sold them for $8 donations.

Discussing her back-to-the-earth experience, Ms. Carpenter explained:

‘I really like to feel connected to food and understand the stories of where my food came from. When I started, I did it to feed myself. Then I realized that … people are really hungry. So people in the neighborhood came and picked food.’

‘A garden in the middle of a concrete jungle is a nice thing… a community space. It’s like a place of beauty as well as production. If you pick your lettuce, it just has more vitamins. … We’re told to go consume and just buy food, but I want to empower myself by growing it.’

According to city planning, that’s out of the question. “The permit would probably cost several thousand dollars and Carpenter also would have to pay penalties for operating without such a license as she is now. Carpenter works about 25 hours per week at the farm and takes in only about $2,500 a year, before expenses.”

Bureaucratic logic works in the following way: A woman who subsists on a limited income grows her own produce and milks her own goats to save money.  That woman cannot afford a costly permit, which means she has to abandon a farm that saves money and provides nutritious food to her and the hungry.  “Capeesh?”

“The [permit] news stunned the region’s urban farmers and their supporters, who questioned how a fundamental human task that goes back millennia could become illegal.” Get used to it; Novella’s Ghost Town Farm dilemma is another manifestation of “Yes we can,” which in bureaucratic vernacular, even on the local level, really means: “No you can’t.”


Novella’s Blog

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