We dig into the production systems that Michael developed at SOLEfood to allow that 4.5 acre urban farm to meet the challenges of growing in an urban environment, including how they farm on top of pavement and how they mitigate the risks of uncertain land tenure. In addition to producing $350,000 in food each year, SOLEfood provides employment to individuals who struggle with poverty and addiction, and Michael shares his perspective on managing labor under challenges circumstances.
Michael’s 120-acre farm on Salt Spring Island includes 30 acres of hay and grain and six acres of fruits and vegetables, marketed on the island and via the ferry into Vancouver. Michael shares details about marketing in the two very different marketplaces, and we get a good look at his white asparagus production as well.
We also get to hear about Michael’s experience with global agriculture in the 1980s, and how that’s influenced his approach to farming in North America.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
FarmersWeb, making it simple for farms, farm cooperatives, and local food artisans to streamline working with wholesale buyers such as restaurants, schools, corporate kitchens, retails stores, and more. Lessening the administrative work that comes with each order helps producers create a more successful relationship with their buyers and can help them work with more buyers overall.
The transcript for this episode is brought to you by Earth Tools, offering the most complete selection of walk-behind farming equipment and high-quality garden tools in North America; and by Growing for Market, where you can get 20% off your subscription with the code “podcast” at checkout.
Quotes from the Show
I have people who tell me that the only reason they’re alive today is because of the job they hold and the community of farmers they’re associated with, and the fact that they feel needed. They simply feel needed.
It's interesting because I've made every mistake in the book in terms of human resources and yet I look back on the Fairview Gardens experience and I had the same crew there for 17 years, I think, and oh my gosh, do I miss them.
Every farm I’ve ever been to, those canvases are particular the personality and history and background and culture of the farmer-artist who has painted them in.
Many of the people who live on Salt Spring Island are of privilege. I felt the need to use my skills to address some needs that exist in pretty much every low-income community in the world.
You can certainly create a niche around anything, but at some point you have to evaluate whether you have the stamina for it, if you have the right systems to support it, whether the market is there.
Good farming has less to do with fertile soil and refined technique, and more to do with people who love their land, and bring passion to that land and the work they are doing, and love to feed their communities.
When our staff are happy, inevitably I hear from our customers how delicious the food is. There’s a direct relationship there.
[Goethe] Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
He is also the author of three previously published books: From the Good Earth: A celebration of growing food around the world; On Good Land: The autobiography of an urban farm; and Fields of Plenty: A farmer’s journey in search of real food and the people who grow it. More information available at michaelableman.com/books
The weird and awesome college where Michael and I first made our indirect contact was Deep Springs College.