Michael Ableman poses for a portrait.

The Downtown Eastside neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia is often labeled “Canada’s poorest neighborhood.” But it is there that author and longtime activist Michael Ableman developed a sustainable food movement. Co-founded by Ableman, Sole Food Street Farms has transformed vacant urban land into fertile gardens employing community members struggling with addiction and mental illness. Ableman’s new book, “Street Farm,” tells the story of Sole Food and its larger mission to encourage small farming in underserved urban cities. We’ll talk to Ableman about the book and the urban farming movement.

More Information:

Michael Abelman’s website

Michael Ableman, co-founder and executive director, Sole Food Street Farms and Cultivate Canada; author, "Street Farm: Growing Jobs, Food, and Hope on the Urban Frontier" and "Fields of Plenty"

  • Noelle

    Michael, it’s pronounced Goleeeta!
    I grew up there and later enjoyed the organic veggies from Michael Ableman.

  • Frank

    With 7.4 billion people on Earth, we already need every farm and garden we can build.
    And these will require clean water, rather than the permanently ruined aquifers that fracking causes.

  • Chuck

    What is the danger and risk from contaminants contained in urban soil such as lead? How do you test and protect against such contaminants?

    • Kevin Skipper

      Urban gardens themselves can help detect toxins.

      Here in the Bay Area poppies, fennel and other fast-growing plants indicate heavy metals by the color of their flowers…

  • Kevin Skipper

    Sole? Is that supposed to be a joke? Wondering if Ableman’s operation is anything like City Slicker Farms here in Oakland…
    Neat, hip new urban gardens tended by happy urban ‘newcomers’ and still surrounded by throngs of gaunt heroin addicts. True, they’re heroin addicts who know about kale and squash.
    These urban farms are not a substitute for schools, community development and ACTUAL opportunity. Hopefully Ableman’s model offers some al@@ternatives…

  • Kevin Skipper

    Ah, Kenny. Toppling stereotypes but can’t kick the habit…
    Schools, jobs and locally owned businesses reduce drug addiction. A large urban plantation (sharecroppers not withstanding) have proven better news makers than community builders.

    Its been painful to see urban farms as hip placeholders for later gentrification. In this case, what chance to local kids have to actually inherit these benefits?

    I wonder if this program can actually become part of an public school system. Create progressive curriculum to catch urban youth BEFORE addiction and other maladies.

  • Noelle

    People need to learn to cook and not be dependent on processed and prepared foods that are too easy to buy.

  • Robert Thomas

    Nothing Mr Ableman describes that he and his associates in Vancouver have achieved seems anything other than admirable.

    The “organic” agriculture enterprise has become a religion. All religions quickly become filled with Pharisees an Elmer Gantrys.

    At this time organic farming Poo Bahs are irate that hydroponic growers using only organically sourced nutrients (and very little water) are requesting that produce grown in such a way be allowed the “organic” label, because the plants’ roots “don’t touch dirt”. Where does Mr Ableman stand in this controversy?

    What greater perversion of the concept of sustainability by sclerotic ideology masquerading as righteous environmentalism could be conceived?

    “Some Growers Say Organic Label Will Be Watered Down If It Extends To Hydroponics”
    By Rebecca Sananes
    All Things Considered, November 16, 2016

    • Kevin Skipper

      Does “organic” not also refer to the living microbiome in soils, as well as macrominerals? Hydroponic systems are nice but in my opinion, their benefits are most easily seen in applications where mold or bacterial growth would be an issue or security concerns preclude outdoor growing.

      • Robert Thomas

        For me, “organic” means “contains carbon compounds other than carbonates or carbides”. All other definitions are political and ideological and are subject to the whims and diatribe of polemicists and apologists.

        Surely, it’s up to a grower to decide whether this or that form of production is worthwhile. If it fails financially, it is not. If it succeeds, it produces benefit. In the case of hydroponic production, the activity neither harms nor helps any soil, since no soil is involved, either in the ground or piled up in plastic boxes, as is Mr Ableman’s.

        • Kevin Skipper

          I hear you Mr. Thomas. There are, indeed myriad benefits to the simplicity and the modular, scalable nature of hydroponics and it’s similar applications. The scalability and diversity of such systems allow creative and, at times, elegant approaches to emerging needs to produce food in the least likely of places or, for that matter times. Some might say Jules Verne introducedthe idea in his prophetic work. After-all Captain Nemo maintained crops of both aquatic and terrestrial plants to promote the management of a vertically integrated, top-secret spy paramilitary insurgency. Replete with a specialized, submarine weapons program dedicated to maritime terrorist insurgency. The only slightly psychotic visionary accomplished all of that with a near zero carbon footprint. Whether the production of the Nautilus employed sustainably sourced super-alloys is another question entirely.
          My point is that while hydroponic production may create a whole, healthful, nutritious, and sufficiently pure yield of food, it often assumes that certain non-soil materials are employed in the design. Tubs, buckets, tubes, mesh, pipes, unless they are produced exclusively of food grade materials, often contain conventional plastics and polymers. The challenge would be to ensure that all componentry of a given hydroponic system fit a description of food safe, organic, and likely sustainably sourced.

          “Organic Hydroponic Systems”
          Designed by Oakleaf Organic and installed by Skipper Gardening Service could be a good option for you to consider. From conceptual modeling and direct product sourcing to installation and integration solutions, they can get you all set. Dedicated service, competitive rates and simple clear estimates and quotes.


          The idea of “Organic” food is predicated upon the existence of a living, organic soil base. The carbon and other minerals in the earth’s lithosphere are themselves indispensable in not only the material benefits of food but those many spiritual and energetic benefits, as well. While these elements do, by all means, exist in hydroponic foods, as well, the emphasis on Organic food is a component of a larger idea of developing and protecting Organic soils and their corresponding Organic ecosystems.
          A major value of soil, besides what it contains, is what it doesn’t contain. The idea that a Organic food can arrive at the table requiring no other materials than soil, sunlight, and water is the true expression of the oft-utilized increasingly loaded label we refer to as Organic.

          Important to mention, some variations of hydroponic systems can, in fact, utilize organic soil. Aquaculture can employ terrestrial and aquatic organisms and media to produce organic byproducts that can, themselves be used to enrich and fortify traditional farm and garden soils.

          I do a little agronomy as well.
          Compost toilet systems, digesters, ocean fertilizer mixes, seaweed granules, etc.

          Gimme a shout sometime if I can help.

  • Thomas Cummins

    I question the purity of purchased compost and planting soils. The organic rated compost made from Bay Area greenscraps is full of plastic and other bits of garbage. It’s hard to get away from toxins in our soil.

  • Robert Thomas

    Martial Cottle Park in San Jose has set aside half of its 287 acres to be operated as Jacobs Farm, a certified organic producer.

    “In order to maintain its agricultural history and preserve this land for future generations, the Cottle-Lester family withstood the pressures of urban development and turned down fortunes offered by developers. In 2003 Walter Cottle Lester, in accordance with his mother Ethel’s wishes, transferred his remaining 287 acres to the State and County for development of a public park that informs and educates the public about the agricultural heritage of the Santa Clara Valley.
    “Jacobs Farm is a leader in organic farming and is partnering with County Parks for the long term organic agricultural production and education project initially covering 180 acres or nearly half of the entire ranch. The produce grown will then be on sale to the public at the farm stand on-site. It is a rare opportunity to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the community directly from ‘field to fork’.
    “The rest of the park will be shared with other agricultural production and educational pursuits. Cooperative Partners such as City of San Jose Community Gardens, UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, 4H and an urban forestry program will share parts of the 287 acre property.”

    Santa Clara County Parks

  • BDN

    I’d say it sounds like a great idea if it weren’t for dark and oppressive institutional adversaries baked into the real estate that have no interest to see it succeed but would allow accrual of just enough assets and success in places like Watts to get swallowed up and eaten alive by little details like property rights, gerrymandering, class, race, distinction, housing, and the sacrificial lambs of stressed agricultural urban labor where bottom rungs of shame would prevail over salvation, and where the guest himself had come to recognize grand theft and sabotage on a scale that could literally heist enclosed infrastructure and could only be recognized as institutional warfare against the notion, and would look like China Town if you made a movie about it.


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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