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Michael Ableman: Urban Ag Pioneer
By Radha Marcum

The following summary is by Mary Zellachild. To read the full article, click here.

Michael Ableman's Foxglove Farm, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada

Michael Ableman's Foxglove Farm, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada.

“There's an absolute need for us all to understand the incredible life force of Nature,
and that we're a part of it, not separate.”
- Michael Ableman

Michael Ableman has been described as an "agrarian guru," not only farming in a sustainable way for over four decades, but educating the public about community-centered farming models through his programs, books, classes, and apprenticeships.

Michael grew up in Delaware, influenced by his grandparents—who emigrated from Eastern Europe and had been farmers when he was very young. He stated that even after his grandparents no longer farmed, "The focus was always on the meals that we shared as a family," which meant going out and gathering food from nearby community farms and visiting with farmers along the way. That instilled in him the connection between farming, food and family.

Michael moved to California, where he worked on a series of farms and then joined Sunburst Farms in 1972, an agrarian commune near Ojai. At age 18, and with very little farming experience, he was put in charge of the commune's 100-acre orchard. After much hard work, the orchard thrived, and Michael stated, "That experience lit the fire for me around agriculture."

In 1981 he became the farm manager at Fairview Gardens near Santa Barbara, California— surrounded by housing tracts and shopping malls. Michael later started the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview, "to bring food production to where people were living, to teach people how to make it happen." When Michael had the opportunity to buy the farm in 1994, "he and some other local farming advocates formed a nonprofit that purchased the farm with the Land Trust of Santa Barbara, preserving it as a model farm for sustainable, organic urban agriculture ever since."

Michael eventually moved to British Columbia, where he now lives and farms at Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island and where he also directs the Centre for Arts, Ecology and Agriculture. In 2008 Michael started Sole Food Street Farms located in downtown Vancouver, BC—"his latest urban agrarian project." This is a collection of small vegetable and fruit farms being developed on the city's previously empty lots—altogether adding up to five acres! The project employs twenty-five people and sells produce to restaurants, farmers markets, and retail sales outlets. The employees live in the downtown area and are people "who are struggling with addiction."

Michael describes himself as the kind of person who "wants to jump into things." His personal credo comes from a quote by Goethe: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." Concerning his many years of working on the land he states: "There's an absolute need for us all to understand the incredible life force of Nature, and that we're a part of it, not separate."

To learn more about Michael and his work, visit;; or His books include From the Good Earth: A Celebration of Growing Food Around the World (1993); On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm (1998); Fields of Plenty: A Farmer's Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It (2005); and Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs and Hope on the Urban Frontier (2016).

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