Michael Ableman of Foxglove Farm

Perched high up Mt. Maxwell in a clearing you could miss if you didn’t know just how to find it, sits Foxglove Farm, one of BC’s most extraordinary farms. On this hot and brilliantly sunny day, Foxglove’s one hundred and twenty acres are alive with rows of strawberries, the curling vines of melons, and the bushy heads of carrots. Near the raspberry patch an audible buzz grows so loud you have to raise your voice to speak over it —very happy bees are at toil. A new orchard boasts the exotic choices of Russian almonds, persimmons, quince, fig, and apricot. Foxglove grows a rainbow spectrum of produce and when they sell at the market, aesthetics play a large role. “I approach agriculture very much as an artist,” says farmer Michael Ableman, meaning the farmland itself is beautiful to behold, but so are the fruits of their labour. Bouquets of deep red beets, rosy and golden carrots colour their market stand in the fall while there are baskets of carefully chosen ruby berries in the summer.

Foxglove Farm is a local pearl. Not only does it boast an impressive variety of artfully selected crops, it is also home to a cultural and education centre that offers a wide array of farming, art, and community-building courses. At the helm of this operation is farmer Michale Ableman who found his way to Salt Spring from California.

The name Michael Ableman is well known among the West coast farming community. A long career of very public organic farming includes his three books, the creation of Foxglove Farm’s education centre, and his twenty years at the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens (a non profit organization based on one of the oldest and most diverse organic farms in southern California). I say public farming because there are a couple camps I’m familiar with in the modern organic farming world: those farmers who grow and raise and keep quietly to themselves, preferring the company of green things or four-footed creatures, and those who grow and raise and feel inspired to share what they’ve learned through writing and speaking and who invite people onto their land to experience their farm firsthand, hoping to spread the message of organics and small farming through hands-on experience. Ableman is gracefully of the latter camp.

“The land informs us what goes on there —if you pay attention,” he told me as we sat perched on a slope looking out over a vista of crops. “This land wants people here,” he said. A cluster of rustic cottage dwellings, a view that climbs up to the clouds, a walking trail to cool, refreshing Maxwell Lake seem to confirm Ableman’s intuition. It is easy to see why people love to retreat here in the original homestead dwelling and why they come to work as apprentices or to attend one of the many art and education programs Foxglove hosts. And welcoming as it is, the farm is also far enough off Salt Spring Island’s beaten path to filters its visitors and dwellers —you’ve really got to want to be here to make the journey. It took Ableman himself quite a few years of annual visits before he realized he wanted to live here. “You know, the land chooses us,” Ableman said, reflecting on his own journey here. “And then you have to remember the person whose shoulders you’re standing on.” By this Ableman means not only the farmers that preceded him here on the land, but also the native people who lived on Mt. Maxwell before them.

It is his inclination to share his land that set Ableman apart. The education centre has back-to-back programs lined up throughout the summer with visiting artists, writers, and teachers to guide the variety of workshops. And while he clearly wants to make the most of this farm, he refuses to exploit it. His unique approach to farming as an art form, his commitment to bringing people onto the farm, and his clear respect for the history of the place make Foxglove Farm a truly special farm. Ableman looks out over the verdant crops and muses, “this place is here to rejuvenate people, to nourish. All I’m doing is following its script.”

 

To learn more about Foxglove Farm click here. To read more about Michael Ableman click here.

Written By:

Gary Hynes, a writer and photographer, founded EAT magazine in 1998 and is its editor and chief paperboy. He studied Electronic Music with Samuel Dolan at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Audio Recording Technology at ...

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