In recent back-to-the-land memoirs, fresh food is just one reason to take up the plow.
The Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter
Penguin Press HC, The
$25.95 List Price
In the 1980s, we had urban cowboys. Now, we have urban farmers. Where John Travolta in a cowboy hat and big belt buckle was once the emblem of a newly citified country boy, today trends lean in the other direction, with urbanites going back—partway, at least—to the land. Dressed in everything from Carhartt overalls to newly stylish Walmart Wellingtons, they're a generation that finds itself longing for a connection through blackberries of the earthy kind.
Some, like Manny Howard, whose My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm (Scribner, $25) chronicles the six months he spent growing vegetables, attempting to raise animals, and sabotaging his marriage on an eight-hundred-square-foot plot in Brooklyn with the goal of feeding himself for a month, are journalists on a mission for both a good story and a newfound sense of self. As Howard writes, rather loftily, near the start of his tale, "On The Farm I will have clarity of purpose and an objective understanding of my progress. This might be true for the first time in my life. This prospect is exhilarating. On The Farm all the vagaries of my life will be stripped away. Finally, relief from all the unanswered, even the unanswerable, questions." But as any farmer will tell you, farming is actually the exact opposite. It's a livelihood based on uncertainty and unknowables that require a steady hand and personality, neither of which, to his chagrin, Howard possesses.
Howard's not the only urban farmer to learn this lesson the hard way (and then write about it—apparently the desire to farm comes