On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Leah Penniman, co-founder and Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY, outlines a plan for justice for people of color that requires more than equality. “If we imagine that somehow we’re now all on a level playing field, and we only now start treating everyone equally and fairly, thinking that would fix the problem of racism, we are really misguided,” says Penniman.
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The solution, says Penniman, must reflect on a history of discrimination against farmers of color. While in 1910, black farmers owned 14 percent of the land, ownership dropped to only 1 percent of land after targeted lynching, racist violence, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discriminatory policies. “Reparation is all about giving the land back,” explains Penniman.
“Our food comes from the earth, from the soil, from the land. And if we don’t own any and we don’t control any of it, we don’t really have a voice in the food system,” says Penniman, who has 20 years of experience in food sovereignty activism and food stewardship.
Penniman co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 with the mission of ending racism and injustice in the food system, growing food for people marginalized by food apartheid. The farm hosts a CSA, youth programs, activist retreats, and a Black-LatinX Farmers immersion program that teaches new growers about regenerative and ancestral farming techniques, inspired by agricultural scientist George Washington Carver.
“George Washington Carver was talking about not just sustaining but regenerating. And that’s important to us—to root it to that historical moment, but also to think about how human beings can be a blessing to the earth and not neutral or negative,” says Penniman.
Penniman’s forthcoming book, Farming While Black, documents these regenerative and ancestral farming techniques alongside culturally relevant recipes and inspirational quotes. “I wanted to include the whole arc of how we interact with food: from the finding of land, to asking the land’s permission to clear and sow the seed, to the nourishment that enters our bodies, to the political system, and to how we teach our children. We can’t have a book about farming without talking about how we turn those crops into food that’s going to nourish us and also keep our traditions alive,” says Penniman.
To support farmers of color and their traditions, Penniman says “we can do that person to person […] it’d just be wonderful to all reach out to farmers of color and other leaders of color in the community and say ‘how can I help?’” But larger shifts must take place for white people to adequately support these farmers. “The biggest shift is going from knowing to not knowing, and from speaking to listening,” says Penniman.
Photo courtesy of ecoRI News.