Michael Ableman’s vision for creating an orchard on a five-acre Wilmington brownfield might bring a world-renowned pioneer of urban farming back home. The Tatnall graduate, 63, has an agricultural heritage going back to a Millsboro family farm, but he studied visual arts before realizing that “organic agriculture, urban agriculture, food security and related social and ecological issues” would become his lifetime passion. He has written and photographed four books (the latest is “Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier”), founded several organizations to promote appreciating the bounty and fragility of the land and led urban farms in several other troubled areas, including the original Skid Row, to generate “a sense of purpose,” provide jobs to the underemployed and showcase the social, political and environmental sources of food.
The Wilmington site is the former Diamond State Salvage Yard at 14th and Church streets. The city, which owns the lot, and the Environmental Protection Agency in April announced a $197,500 grant to determine plans for cleanup, development and reuse there and for a similar city-owned site at 12th Street and Gov. Printz Boulevard. “We’re using agriculture to reconnect people to their roots,” says Ableman, who provides technical skills and connections from his base as an organic farmer on British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island and plans for the efforts in Wilmington to be locally run. “We have to have it heavily rooted in the community.”