“Photograph by Michael Ableman from the book Street Farm; growing food, jobs, and hope on the urban frontier Chelsea Green 2016”

In this excerpt from his book Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs and Hope on the Urban Frontier, Michael Ableman reflects on growing tomatoes and discovering our shared humanity. Michael is the cofounder of Sole Food Street Farms  which is now the largest urban farm project in North America.

Michael will be sharing his experience in Calgary  on April 23, at the launch event for REAP Business Association’s Down to Earth Week, a celebration of social innovation and sustainable business practices.  To learn more about the event, click here (https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/growing-food-jobs-hope-tickets-33138917394). 

Planting tomatoes with Kenny that first year at the Astoria, everything was new and a tomato plant was not just one more tomato plant, but something to behold. I am sure he didn’t notice, but I watched him just looking at one of those plants, in awe of its fragile nature, and I sensed in that moment that he realized that plant was dependent on him for its survival. I saw his humanity that day, and I also saw how like that small plant he too was a little fragile and dependent. And when the first tomatoes ripened on those plants all of us came together to sample our work, and I got to watch that crew’s expressions as their brains registered something truly amazing, something so new and so real and so beautiful.

Working this way, delighting in the world we share, is eye opening. And still, with eyes open on this world—the pain, the poverty, the pull of drugs—it is impossible to not feel the suffering that is likewise common to us all. Rich or poor, sober or not, we all get our share.

I’ve told members of our crew at Sole Food, “You don’t have a monopoly on suffering.” I know that some of us got lucky, have access to more resources, were born into privilege, got the right genes to be pretty or handsome, or have a more comfortable safety net to fall back on. And while it is near impossible for me to live in this world and not feel the misery that so many people are going through, I know I need to recognize the difference between compassion and pity. I’m not sure the latter has ever provided much relief. At Sole Food we insist on compassion, we believe it drives all of us to some form of action—to make a donation, prepare a meal for someone, lend an ear, plant some seeds, or provide a job.

For more information on REAP’s Down to Earth Week, visit their website (http://www.belocal.org/earthweek2017).

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