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Important Research Achievements
[2017] Back to the City: Urban Agriculture and the Reimagining of Agrarianism in Novella Carpenter's Farm City Back to the City: Urban Agriculture and the Reimagining of Agrarianism in Novella Carpenter's Farm City

In this essay, I examine how Novella Carpenter, while paying dutiful homage to the American agrarian ideal, diverges from dominant agrarian discourse’s rural-centricity when she (trans)plants both the practice and the art of cultivation to an inner-city abandoned lot. In her memoir Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (2009), Carpenter’s story of small family farming, indeed, evokes what Eric T. Freyfogle describes as an agrarian mode of life in which humans, as members of the land community, are “just as dependent as other life on the land’s fertility and just as shaped by its mysteries and possibilities” (Freyfogle, in: Freyfogle (ed) The new agrarianism: land, culture, and the community of life, Island Press, Washington, DC, 2001, p. xiii). Carpenter’s return to the city, however, marks a critical break from traditional understandings of agrarianism, challenging the city-country binary that has long been employed in the imagining of agrarianism. Farming in the city, like traditional agrarians she is attentive to the agencies of nonhuman entities and matters; unlike them, she moves beyond their rurality to reconfigure cities as agential bodies constantly in dynamic processes of becoming. In Farm City, her return from the land shifts the emphasis from the countryside to the city, evoking a “new agrarianism” that foregrounds both environmental stewardship and community-citizenship. The urban strain of Carpenter’s farming experience, I argue, not only brings to the fore the agronomic and spiritual potentialities of inner cities but forges a new ethical relation embracing humanity and history as active agents of the agrarian community.



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