Agricultural Artist: Michael Ableman

article image
Photo by Kim Rierson

In his latest book on sustainable farming, organic farmer, author and photographer Michael Ableman inspires people to reconnect with their food and those who grow it.

MENTORING GROWERS: “Our society desperately needs people who can teach the fundamental skills we need to live: how to grow good food, how to make shelter and clothing, how to care for the land,” says Ableman, founder of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, an organic farm and education center in southern California.

MAKING CHANGE: Ableman’s passion for sustainable agriculture has led him to start inner-city food gardens at a housing project in Watts, California, and at an AIDS hospice in Santa Barbara; his work has inspired dozens of similar projects throughout North America. Today, he and his wife, Jeanne Marie, run an organic farm and bed and breakfast on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia.

SEEKING SUSTAINABILITY: One summer, Ableman left his farm at the cusp of growing season and made a pilgrimage to commune with fellow farmers–from the Pacific Northwest to New York City–who are transforming the way food is grown. The result of his 12,000-mile odyssey is a poetic memoir, Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It (Chronicle, 2005).

ENLIGHTENED VISION: “I want to blow away the stereotypes associated with farming: the toxic industrial processes, the drudgery,” Ableman says. Instead, he chronicles the efforts (and recipes) of farmers who create food that’s flavorful, diverse and respectful of the land. His book travels from organic family farms in the heartland to lush, inner-city community gardens transformed from abandoned lots.

THE ART OF FARMING: “Being a farmer is no different than being a painter with a canvas and a palette of beautiful colors; there’s so much room for creativity,” Ableman says. “The people I found on my journey are artists with the most fundamental and necessary of skills.”

“A farm should be a place for the expression of animals, plants, the broader ecology. When human expression marries this, the results are delicious, sustainable, even revolutionary.”
–Michael Ableman