In the heart of suburban Santa Barbara, where land is pricey and a field is worth more covered with asphalt than arugula, asparagus, and apple trees, thrives Fairview Gardens, a small organic farm managed for the past 18 years by Michael Ableman. On Good Land, an engrossing read, chronicles the life of the 100-year-old farm -- from its history to Ableman's first glimpse of the land to the current struggle to save it from development. Blending photographs, philosophy, humor, and practical knowledge, Ableman brings the reader into the everyday world of a small farm. With him we prune peach trees, harvest peppers, journey to the farmer's market, and fight city hall. Part memoir, part photojournalistic montage, On Good Land reveals one man's love of the land and his struggle to protect it, and to spread the word about the importance of practicing sustainable agriculture and preserving our farms in an increasingly urban world.
A dramatic pair of pictures opens this book: aerial shots of Fairview Gardens Farm, near Goleta, California, first in 1954, then in 1998. Once part of thousands of acres of farmland, Fairview Gardens is now entirely surrounded by tract homes, strip malls, and all the conveniences of modern suburban life. This 12.5-acre oasis exists only because Michael Ableman has steadfastly refused to let it be gobbled up by the relentless bulldozers. His story is funny, fierce, inspiring, and infuriating. His success, tempered by ample setbacks, will be of practical use to anybody seeking to preserve farmland from suburban sprawl. This powerful love story about a man and a place is especially moving because the land is not his: for most of the past 17 years, Ableman has been a tenant farmer at Fairview Gardens. Few people would put so much sweat and soul into borrowed land, yet to Ableman, ownership is irrelevant--it is the rich, beautiful land itself, and the sweet, slow food it produces for him, that matters. --Ann Lovejoy