Fwd: you say tomato....
- I thought this might be of interest.
Vancouver Sun, Page C05, 24-Aug-2005
Maverick methods work just fine for both produce and the planet
By Mia Stainsby
Say it can't be done and he'll do it. So, when maverick farmer
Michael Ableman ran a farm in California, he grew tomatoes without a
drop of irrigation.
On Saltspring Island, where he now operates an organic farm and bed
and breakfast, dry farming tomatoes is a cinch, he says. "It's easy
here. The soil acts like a sponge. If you want to grow good tomatoes,
don't water them," he says. "It not only conserves water, it
concentrates the flavour.
"I can show you 12,000 tomato plants in the field that haven't had a
drop of water. I start with tall lanky plants, plant them really deep
and time the cultivation so the plant has the ability to seek out
subsoil moisture. Tomatoes are actually very thrifty and when you
grow tomatoes or beans without water, you're conserving an incredibly
Agriculture, he says, uses 80 per cent of the world's freshwater
resources with only 20 per cent of it reaching the plants and animals
because of inefficient transport and application systems. "Precise
planting depths, timely cultivation, ancient dry-farming techniques,
increased crop variety, drip tapes and hoses are ways of using water
much more efficiently."
The same goes for energy, he says. "If you look at the relation
between food and oil, one of the greatest services is to begin to
show that food can be produced without intensive input of energy. My
goal is to be 80 per cent fossil oil-free in the next couple of
years," he declares. He has solar systems set up to power his farm.
When Ableman drops into a local Japanese restaurant, it's not for
sushi. He's there to pick up their spent frying oil, which he filters
and uses to power his farm tractor. "We can reconfigure diesel
tractors to operate on biodiesel or spent fry oil," he says. "One of
the most significant issues for the future of agriculture is that
we're on the cusp of seeing the engine for the old way of life --
oil -- disappearing, and we're in trouble. But we haven't even begun
to tap alternatives."
Ableman ignores the so-called zones for planting. He grows
Mediterranean figs, as well as 12 varieties of French melons which is
a feat on the West Coast. He increases heat value by planting the fig
trees on raised mounds, allowing more heat to reach the roots.
"If you mulch, it's key to know when to use and when to remove
mulches," says Ableman, who is experimenting with growing citrus
Technical fixes, like remay, a diaphanous row covering, allows plants
to grow in otherwise inhospitable conditions. "It sits atop crops and
is so light, it lifts as the plant grows and traps heat. I know
farmers in far worse climates than in Canada who are doing ingenious
things using very little energy with cold frames and layers of row
cover, growing an incredible range of vegetables through the fall and
"There are lots of models proving that we can create diverse,
flavourful, delicious foods in any number of different climates. The
possibilities are endless with vision and creativity. We don't
necessarily have to reach a crisis before adopting these ideas," he
"Cuba did reach a crisis almost overnight when access to Soviet
supplies of fertilizers and pesticides disappeared. They were forced
to starve or find another way. They've created a most amazing
national system of growing foods in a more sustainable way than could
be imagined, more sophisticated than anywhere in the world. It wasn't
out of philosophy. They did it to survive.
"I'm here to say farmers can do extremely well in many different
climate zones, making an incredibly good living."
THE TALE OF TWO STRAWBERRIES:
When customers ask why his strawberries cost more than imports from
California, Michael Ableman refers to the tale of two strawberries.
"In the case of the imported strawberries, which might be 50 cents to
a dollar less per basket, the process begins with sterilizing the
soil with methyl bromide which is a significant contributor to ozone
depletion. They fumigate under plastic and you'll see white sheets
covering the ground as far as you can see. It kills everything,
including weed seeds and makes the soil a lifeless medium, there just
to hold up the plant. More plastic is laid on the ground to keep the
food off the ground and the plants are fed chemical fertilizers like
patients on intravenous drip. Strawberry farmers have the choice of
up to 65 different pesticides and will use some of them during
"It's no longer radical thinking -- credible studies show
correlations between industrial agriculture and cancer clusters,"
Ableman says. "So I say, it's true, the industrially grown
strawberries are cheaper but the truth is, someone is paying for it
many times over."
Source: Mia Stainsby
> I thought this might be of interest.Thanks Gloria that's also encouraging us to read it
----- Original Message -----
From: "Gloria C. Baikauskas" <gcb49@...>
Sent: Thursday, August 25, 2005 4:14 AM
Subject: [fukuoka_farming] Fwd: you say tomato....
>I can witness the growing of tomatoes without water . in our aera the soil
> Say it can't be done and he'll do it. So, when maverick farmer
> Michael Ableman ran a farm in California, he grew tomatoes without a
> drop of irrigation.
> On Saltspring Island, where he now operates an organic farm and bed
> and breakfast, dry farming tomatoes is a cinch, he says. "It's easy
> here. The soil acts like a sponge. If you want to grow good tomatoes,
> don't water them," he says. "It not only conserves water, it
> concentrates the flavour.
and air is very dry for only one month before there is enough moisture left
from the winter rains in the soil and mid august there is enough dew that
fall at night that many winter plants are starting to grow . he is living
also on a valley while i am on a ridge with very little water in summer time
. when i was living in a valley , i did grew tomatoes and many other things
without any watering at all , despite i had access to gravity fed water from
a stream as much as i wanted . our strawberries were sold at the same market
for 3 dollars instead of 5 for Michael . He is coming from california ( like
70 percent of a new owners on saltspring )with a very different mentalitee .
contrary to what the article suggest farming is not his main income ( bed
and breakfast, writer , speaker ...) he just bought on top of his 8 acres
farm a farm of over 100 acres for 1millions ., 300 000 CDN$ and he is
reselling double price his small farm than he paid for, 4 years ago. so i
know for sure than even when selling strawberries at 5 dollars the pint that
doen'st makes enough money to buy this kind of farm .
It is very disapointing for me that not only this specific land he bought
was wanted to create the ecovillage we want to grow here but also was home
of Dan jason of saltspring seeds (a very dedicated grower and seed savers of
heritage seeds) before michael ask him to leave ( while together they could
have done a terrific job at creating the seedsanctuary that don jason want
saltspring to become .
moral of the story don't take journalistic stories as very meaningfull piece
of litterature .Basically they are advertising of personalities and
also sustainability is such in fashion nowadays that even not so dedicated
peoples can be sold in the media as such .By the way comparing organic
strawberries at 5 dollars with chemically grown ones is not too fair
.organic strawberries from here or california are still way cheaper than his
i personally don't know any climate worse than in canada possibly antartica
, MIchael forgot that saltspring is not all of canada , also we are zoned
here in the nothern range of mediteranean climate , figs growing have been
here for very long .
I like michael as a person but don't share his politic. tho i like his figs
at one dollar a piece ( imagine beatrice the fortune you are not making in
israel ) and it is true , growing on a mound could have been the reason why
he had them 3 weeks before ours ( could be the variety also )we enjoy our
unirragated figs also ( his are irrigated ). by the way a deer completelly
devastated the newlly fig trees i planted this summer. this is the draw
back of living in the wild and practicing natural farming .so now i need
companion plants for figs that repell deers also