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Fields of Plenty: A Farmer's Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It

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In the face of supersizing and a fast-food nation, a growing community of organic farmers and food artisans are producing sustainable nourishment that is respectful to the land and rich in heritage, flavor, and passion. In Fields of Plenty , respected farmer, teacher, and ecology advocate Michael Ableman seeks out these innovative and committed farmers to reveal how the fruits of those who till the soil go beyond taste. From Knolls farm in California, famous for succulent figs tree-ripened to perfection, to an urban farm in Chicago that sustains an entire community, his odyssey takes him to farmers who are trying to answer questions of sustenance philosophically and, most importantly, in practice. Illustrated with evocative color photographs of the land and the people who work it, and accompanied by a bountiful selection of recipes, this beautifully written memoir reveals the power of food as a personal and cultural force.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published September 29, 2005

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Michael Ableman

10 books10 followers

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5 stars
68 (45%)
4 stars
52 (34%)
3 stars
28 (18%)
2 stars
0 (0%)
1 star
2 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews
Profile Image for Marjorie Elwood.
1,110 reviews23 followers
August 6, 2020
A look at a variety of organic (even if not certified as such), small-scale farms by a farmer who helped start the organic movement, as he goes on a road trip with his son. In addition to philosophy, there are recipes, and the portrayals of the farmers he meets are understanding of their various eccentricities.

"Growing and eating food are sacred acts; we need to reclaim them from the scientists and the industrialists, the bureaucrats and the organicrats."
Profile Image for Liz.
534 reviews2 followers
July 19, 2017
In the same vein as From the Good Earth, in which the author traveled around the world to visit farms and learn about traditional practices, Fields of Plenty is the story of his road trip around the United States with his 23-year-old son Aaron, visiting farms, talking to farmers, taking pictures, and sometimes working side-by-side with people who do the same work he does. Michael Ableman currently lives and farms in British Columbia, but in the early 1980s, he started a farm in Southern California, Fairview Gardens, which currently serves as an education center, the Center for Urban Agriculture, in addition to continuing life as a working organic farm. (The story of Fairview Gardens is told in Ableman’s second book, On Good Land, which I intend to find and read.) Of great interest to me was finding out that Michael Ableman’s roots are right here in my area, where his great-grandfather settled and ran a general store!

In this book, Michael Ableman visits about twenty-five farms all over the country. He leaves his own farm in the hands of his wife and farmworkers, a first for him, as From the Good Earth was undertaken during the winter, rather than at the high season. As he drives, he thinks about the lessons learned at each farm, and mulls that over, along with his own hard-won experience of many years. I quote here some of the passages that struck a chord in me:

“Figuring out how to feed people sustainably is a messy process of unraveling old ideas and experimenting with new ones. To conclude that, once chemicals are replaced with steer manure, the job is done misses the opportunity to explore a wider range of social, ecological, personal, and political possibilities tied to our food system and the way we eat.”

“A more sustainable food system is inevitably decentralized. It should take advantage of local knowledge and solve local problems, and it must be accessible, humane, ecologically responsible, and biologically and culturally diverse. That means rethinking how our society participates in the food system, where food is produced and by whom, and what scale it is grown on. We’ve got to question the idea that a tiny handful of folks can sustainably feed the vast majority. And we’ve got to question whether a problem that is essentially social and ecological can be solved by science and technology.”

“…the most important aspects of a healthy food system are relationships – interpersonal, biological, and ecological. Food shouldn’t be just another fuel, grown out of sight by anonymous people, prepared and consumed as quickly as possible as if it were an inconvenience.”

“Growing and eating food are sacred acts; we need to reclaim them from the scientists and the industrialists, the bureaucrats and the organicrats.”

“I went on the journey in search of a movement, as if there were some unified group of people across the country following the same path. I return home realizing that each place requires a different response, and each individual is unique in his or her creative expression. I traveled to gather new ideas, innovative techniques, seed and tools; I return inspired. I left exhausted from too much work, worried about the fate of the earth, deeply concerned about a nation that had turned its back on its land, its food, and its agrarian roots. I return with a sense of hope and possibility.”

That sense of hope and possibility makes this a valuable read all by itself. The stories of these farmers give me hope, just as a trip to the local farmer’s market awakens me to what is already happening all around me.
Profile Image for Dana.
25 reviews1 follower
July 2, 2008
My father gave me this book. He got it from a church member whose brother is one of the subjects of this book. It is a perfect book for me because it has a journey, recipes, personal stories and contemplation on our relationship with food and our environment.
The author has a farm on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia and decides to spend three months visiting 25 farmers spread out from B.C. to Maine. He drives a Volkswagen van and takes along his camera and his eldest son and does the unthinkable by leaving his farm at the peak of summer season.
The farms he visits range from the tiny rural family affairs to inner city abandoned lots-turned-gardens for the community. There is a wide range of characters and meals with beautiful photos to illustrate. His arrival home is accompanied by a pile of potatoes, watermelons, peppers, honey, poppy seeds, eggs, tamales, beans, a trumpet, a drum, and the remains of a garlic braid he left home with three months prior. The customs agent waves him through and he gets on the ferry to his home.
It left me with memories of places he described that I've seen and lists of places I'd like to visit next...the first of which is his own farm since I now live within a short drive and a ferry trip away.
I know my list of books is heavy with food-related causes and that is the evolution of my thinking since the beginnings of the local food push, but this is THE book for me. Fast Food started it and the Omnivore's dilemma educated me in depth about my choices, but this book gives me resources and ideas - a sort of Bible for a contemplative eater - and encourages me to be involved with my food choices rather than let others make the decisions for me.
198 reviews2 followers
September 29, 2010
What a gorgeous book! The pictures of the crops and the farmers are breathtaking, but better still are the descriptions of the many ways to approach farming while taking care of the land and being in control of how the crops are planted, grown and harvested. Only a fellow farmer could travel the country with appreciation and respect for his compatriots who fill the farmers markets with food.

"In the quiet and repetition of field work, the mind has a chance to expand, the imagination to loosen. It's in those moments when our hands are busy bunching or hoeing or pruning that the essence of our work reveals itself. It comes in small and subtle revelations, like discovering how a certain insect or wild plant has been contributing to the well-being of the farm, or finding one tomato or carrot among thousands with unique qualities worth propagating, or hearing music in the mundane and repetitious work of filling boxes or burlap bags."

My connections to this book are strong. I buy vegetables from Harmony Valley at the Madison Farmer's Market every summer. Better still, my husband and I have a CSA share in the amazing Future Fruit Farm from which we are savoring all but lost varieties of pears and apples every other week deep into the fall. Both farms are described in the "Classical and Jazz" section.

We also just returned home from the annual Prairie Festival at The Land Institute in Kansas where we too listened to the thoughts of Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry. We brought home a small bag of Kernza, a perennial wheat developed and grown at the Institute. Ableman shares his visit with Wendell and Wes, "Here, among colleagues I have admired for years, I'm reminded of the broader tribe I still belong to.".
Profile Image for Eric.
505 reviews14 followers
November 19, 2008
This is a travel account of Ableman's trip to discover innovative and successful small farmers in Canada and the United States. Ableman was a very successful farmer on 50 acres near Santa Barbara California that was swallowed by encroaching development. Recently he moved to British Colombia and started farming there. In an unusual move he took a summer off for this road trip with his son.
Through beautiful photos and well written text he provides insights into the mindsets of farmers who are engaged in a wide variety of agricultural enterprises. From a grower of heirloom chilies to a stone fruit paradise, from a movable farm in Chicago to a cave aged cheesery, from a highly organized CSA in Wisconsin to a farmer in California who doesn't weed, this book abounds with interesting people and places.
Ableman also shares recipes at the end of each chapter. I very much enjoyed this book because of its beauty and the beauty of the people and places that he chronicled. Meggan bought it for me for my birthday and had it signed when we heard the author speak at APU. Highly recommended.
7 reviews3 followers
October 3, 2007
Wonderful vignettes told with flair of an anthropologist, beautiful photographs and crazy recipes you'll copy into a new collection. Makes you believe small-scale local agriculture may have a future in North America, as the author (a farmer himself) travels to the ~50 different farms and families and takes a close look at a wide range of farming philosophies, farmed products and cultural backdrops that comprise today's small farms. I've kept this book on my bedside table (despite its huge size) for over a year.
Profile Image for JB.
17 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2007
if you're interested in food politics and the local food industry, this book is a must read. michael ableman is a farmer, activist, writer and photographer that decides it's time to go out and meet some other farmers. this book is a document of all the small farmers working their magic. makes you want to run to your nearest farmer's market and meet all the people that grow the food you eat (or should eat).
150 reviews
June 8, 2008
I loved this book. I want to buy a copy for my father, a former farmer/dairyman who taught organic farming in 1938. Michael Ableman is a photographer turned organic farmer whose trip across America interviewing organic farmers is a beautiful tribute to the creative nurture involved in growing a diverse crop and feeding a community. The photos are lovely, the life tales enthralling, and the recipes - yum!
Profile Image for Tammy.
18 reviews2 followers
July 22, 2008
I completely enjoyed reading about Michael Ableman's journey from farm to farm. I loved hearing about the different approaches to farming as well as each farmer's history. Even more, it was easy to feel and hear Ableman's love of land and farming in each word he wrote. I checked it out at the library thinking it wasn't a book I would "need" to have, but now I'm wondering if that was such a wise choice.
20 reviews
October 2, 2009
I loved this book about a farmer's journey back and forth across the US talking to a variety of organic farmers. It was nice to see such a wide variety of farming covered, from large to small, grain to cheese to vegetables to meat. It made me feel hopeful that we can regain control of our food supply and its safety. It also had some really great recipes sprinkled in to help you feel like you were traveling right along with the author.
Profile Image for Dree.
1,599 reviews48 followers
May 16, 2012
I found this book through goodreads--either through recommendations or through the "people who read this book also read" feature.

In this book, Ableman chronicles his summer of driving the US, visiting a variety of organic farmers. We meet them, and learn why/how they came to their work, who they market to, how it goes. The vignettes are written well, and each farmer's/family's voice comes through.

Interesting, with some delicious-sounding recipes included.
May 19, 2008
I enjoyed this book but felt that as the book went along it lost a little momentum. The first couple of farms that the author visits are talked about very patiently and with great detail as he goes along there is less and less detail. I still loved all the farms he talked about and it made me even more excited to grow my own food and buy local!
5 reviews
November 7, 2007
Beautiful book! This farmer/artist takes wonderful pictures of the people he visits and writes so movingly about the family farm it almost makes you want to give you your real job to farm. A tad on the political side, but much less so than the Kingsolver book. Yummy recipes too.
Profile Image for Meg.
54 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2008
I do enjoy Michael Ableman's books. He provides great insight into the perspective and philosophy of the most important people in our society: the farmers.

Three stars because I find it rather foolish that he perpetuates the myth that meat can ever be sustainable (it can't).
Profile Image for Ethicurean Reads.
55 reviews36 followers
October 27, 2008
The memoir of farmer, writer, and photographer Michael Ableman about traveling with his son from his own farm in British Columbia across the United States in search of innovative and passionate farmers who are making a difference in what we eat and how we experience food.
Profile Image for Bryan.
12 reviews1 follower
February 14, 2009
Excellent book. Great taste of sustainable agriculture from across the country. If you want to farm and want to get inspired read this book! Farmers of different cultures, styles, sizes and types. Highlights are the sheep chapter and the elliot coleman chapter. Big yes!
Profile Image for Mikal.
2 reviews3 followers
March 7, 2009
The Omnivore's Dilemma (OD)"light" but not a "light" version of The OD.
This book pre-dates The Omnivore's Dilemma by about two years. If you enjoyed that book or at least found the subject matter interesting you should like this one; it stands on its own and is well worth the read.
2 reviews
February 2, 2014
The author portrayed a poetic yet realistic view of his journey which made the content enjoyable and easy to read. In addition, there was useful information to take away for further research and to ponder.
Profile Image for Wschaint.
30 reviews
February 7, 2016
Non-fiction. Each chapter takes the author and his step son to a different farmer/food producer. They cover most of the united states. Of course each location they visit is an example of sustainable food production, but each with a different specialty or technique. Recipes follow each chapter.
2 reviews
February 28, 2007
Beautifully written book with equally beautiful photography. Makes you want to be an organic farmer.
4 reviews4 followers
October 15, 2007
Beautiful book. A travel narrative following the harvest of sustainable farming across the country. Fantastic recipes are an added bonus!
Profile Image for Dani.
Author 1 book6 followers
August 13, 2008
Beautiful photographs and writing about real food and real farmers.
Profile Image for Geoffrey.
23 reviews1 follower
September 3, 2008
A good read. A little bourgy on the analysis/presentation, but definitely worth reading. A diverse array of characters.
11 reviews
November 24, 2008
A fantastic showcase of the variety of ways we feed ourselves. or rather how others feed us.
Profile Image for Erin.
18 reviews
September 10, 2010
I started this book a while ago, but had to return it to the library. I'd like to finish it one of these days. A wonderful tale, and some yummy recipes too!

Profile Image for Leah.
12 reviews
October 1, 2010
fantastic food/farm ideas, stories and recipes.
delicious pear cake -check.
Profile Image for Sara.
10 reviews
June 12, 2014
Lovely set of short tales highlighting the author's travels around the nation to diverse farms. Loved the stories and the recipes with each chapter.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews

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