Photo by Carol Ann Sayle
The impetus for our celebration of author/farmer Novella Carpenter was former First Lady Laura Bush's annual Texas Book Festival, held on the grounds of the State Capitol.
The two-day festival features authors reading from their new works, panel discussions on various topics covered in non-fiction books, book sales, music, and children's activities. The weather was perfect, a variation of a fall day in New England, but in Austin, the tree leaves were still green. Bright sunshine brought out educated folks--dressed in shorts and shirt sleeves--who love books.
Novella wrote a very popular book, Farm City, about her experiences in an inner-city Oakland, California neighborhood--notably a bit edgier than the one in which our own farm is located. Novella spied a vacant lot next to her apartment building and "squatted" on it in order to grow vegetables. Soon, the vegetables were accompanied by chickens, ducks, geese, goats, rabbits, and pigs. An admirable example of diversity, for sure. The book details the keeping of these animals, interactions with neighborhood characters (including a man who sleeps in an abandoned car), and the eventual harvesting of her animals for food.
Whoa! This is living off the land in extreme. But a very honest living. The animals are well-cared for in a clean environment, the pigs fed gourmet leftovers from Oakland's finest restaurants' dumpsters, and ultimately dispatched with compassion and gratitude.
So at the book festival, Food Channel curator Corby Kummer moderated a panel consisting of Novella and two vegetarian authors who see meat consumption as hastening the end of the world. I'm simplifying here, of course. I, too, was a vegetarian (as was Novella)--in my case, for 18 years. Why? Because factory meat is not healthy for people, torture for the animals, and detrimental to our environment. I ultimately changed my at-home menu for two reasons.
First, at our farm stand, we began carrying grass-fed meat, humanely-raised and harvested by three very ethical Texas ranchers. The omega fatty acids are properly balanced and the animals are not sickened from eating the wrong foods and standing in their own excrement. Their poop actually fertilizes the mixed-forage fields on which they live bucolic lives until the last minute. (I still do not eat meat at restaurants, unless they carry the same meat that we do.)
The second reason was that a few years ago, I began having problems picking up a 50-pound bag of chicken feed. I was losing muscle, apparently because I'm over 60 years old. I read that older folks have more difficulty in building muscles than do youngsters.
Not that we eat great slabs of meat, just some, and it has made a difference in my "musculature."
The panel discussion took place in the Texas House of Representatives, a mere 2 1/2 miles from our farm in East Austin. The audience, including my farmer friends and I, sat in the cushy chairs behind the locked desks of our elected rulers. Unfortunately all we could see of the panelists and Corby were their literary heads. I guess that's the reason representatives sometimes doze off during the legislative sessions, but we did not doze, as the topic was so interesting. We even wanted to cast a vote at the end!
Afterwards, we carted Novella off for a tour of the urban farms in East Austin (there are now four!), and then back to our farm for a dinner. One of the hostesses made a succulent Gulf Coast fresh fish/shrimp stew; another farmer brought a sampling of her veggies for an appetizer. I made a salad using our baby arugula (which Corby professes to love), and I couldn't resist adding a true Texas appetizer: little bison meatballs with a secret fire inside--tiny chili pequins from our wild bushes.
We crowded into our farmhouse, ate off plates on our laps, drank some wine, and talked into the night about farming in cities (but not too far into the night as we are, ahem, farmers). Corby would have enjoyed it immensely, but alas, he was on an airplane bound for home. Next year, perhaps I'll make an arugula salad for him!