July 30th, 2006
Fields of Plenty

Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It.
Michael Abelman. 2005.
ISBN 0-8118-4223-1.

The taste of just picked tomatoes draws many people to vegetable gardening. Even apartment dwellers attempt a pot of cherry tomatoes on the balcony. Why? Because anyone who’s eaten a ripe tomato off the vine knows that nothing that passes as a tomato in the supermarket comes close.

Farmer and writer, Michael Abelman feels as passionately about all the food on his table. “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.” he writes in Fields of Plenty. He want us to rethink how we as a society participate in the food system…in America, a system where 2 percent of the people grow food for everyone. He believes that we should know not only where our food comes from, but the who provides our food. He wants us to have a personal relationship with our “family farmer” just like we do with our doctors and teachers. And so he sets out in the middle of summer from his own farm in British Columbia to visit the fields and orchards of independent farmers all over the United States. He introduces us to the people who sell at farmers markets and to big city chefs, who make speciality cheese, and famous ice cream.

These farmers are all alike in their dedication to the quality of their food but that is where their similarities end. One farmer believes the weeds need to grow up with the vegetables in order to create a perfectly balance ecosystem. Another has perfectly tended fields. Gene Thiel of Prairie Creek Farm specializes in potatoes. Hilario Alvarez grows as many different varieties as he can pack into his fields. One family in a poor rural Pembroke Township sees farming as a way to keep the family and the community together. Ken Dunn moves the City Farm from vacant lot to vacant lot in Chicago, supplying dowtown restaurants and poor neighborhoods alike with fresh produce. All the descriptions of the food make you wish you had gone along for the ride. Like any thoughtful host of a celebration of good food Michael Abelman graciously supplies recipes.

Michael Abelman is right in the midst of the organic standards controversy. He does not have any kind words for Whole Foods Market which he sees as the driving organic farming into another brand of agribusiness. Fields of Plenty provides an antidote to corporate anonymity by putting a face behind the food.

Interview with Michael Abelman

I first became acquainted with Michael Abelman through his book On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm in which he describe the survival Fairview Gardens, a small farm almost overcome by suburban sprawl when neighbors decided that the didn’t like living next to the chickens (even though the chickens were there first).

Both these books are fascinating reads.

by M Sinclair Stevens

One Response to post “Fields of Plenty”

  1. From M2 (Austin):

    National Instruments just had a guy come over from Central Market and discuss how produce is grown and transported, and how they try to get more local and less manipulated foods in. I had no idea how that whole world worked. Warehouses filled with nitrous gas, for instance. Fascinating and a little disturbing. It’s upsetting to see the knee that, if kicked, could bring us down. It’s not the Twin Towers, it’s the grocery system.