Amy Dierdorff

A Cal Poly’s organic agriculture class received a visit from renowned farmer, author, photographer and sustainable foods activist Michael Ableman Wednesday as part of his weekend tour of the Central Coast to help raise money for the Cal Poly Sustainable Agriculture Resource Consortium (SARC).

“I’m really pleased to see that this course exists,” Ableman said, upon introducing himself to the students of the AG 315 class.

He talked to the class about the dire need for people to start focusing on preserving agricultural land and getting communities more involved with their local growers. He also stressed a need for improving the level of interest in organic farming.

“We are at a very critical crossroads in terms of food systems,” Ableman said. “If we wait for policy-makers – the politicians – it may be too late.”

Ableman is the founder and executive director of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, a nonprofit organization based on one of the oldest and most diverse organic farms in Southern California, which he helped to protect and cultivate for years. The farm serves as an educational center as well as a national model for small-scale and urban agriculture.

Ableman has no formal education in agriculture and learned how to raise crops by spending time on his grandparents’ farm and by working at Fairview Gardens.

He showed aerial slides of Fairview Gardens and pointed out how the land that was once surrounded by orchards and fields in 1954 had become surrounded by homes and shopping centers by 1998. Ableman explained that places like Fairview Gardens are extremely valuable and are becoming endangered by urban development.

“In the hour that we are here, 47 acres of prime agricultural land will have been developed,” he said.

Ableman will be the guest of honor at SARC’s second annual fund-raiser dinner, “A Taste of the Future, with Roots in the Past,” to be held on Thursday evening at Rancho Arroyo Grande Winery and Vineyards.

All the money raised will enable SARC to continue providing educational programs in organic and sustainable agriculture for farmers, students and community members, said Hunter Francis, a program coordinator for SARC at Cal Poly.

Ableman’s time in San Luis Obispo also includes a book signing for his newest book “Fields of Plenty” at Barnes and Noble bookstore on Marsh Street, Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and at Splash Cafe on Monterey Street on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. He will also visit Cal Poly’s organic farm on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Ableman is the author of three books on organic and traditional farming methods, based on his experience through conservation work and world travels. He has lectured throughout the United States and Europe. Ableman’s articles have appeared in National Geographic, the Utne Reader, Gourmet Magazine and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” An award-winning film about Ableman’s work, “Beyond Organic,” narrated by Meryl Streep, aired nationally on PBS in 2001.

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