We Can’t Talk About Farming Without Talking About Race
Leah Penniman is helping BIPOC become food sovereign at her 80-acre farm
When nationwide hoarding left supermarket shelves empty in early March, many were forced to get innovative about how they filled their refrigerators. Since then, the popularity of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs has surged, allowing consumers to bypass the corporate middleman and buy directly from farmers.
However, becoming less reliant on industrialized food systems can seem impossible for those with limited access to nutritious food in their communities. Through her work with Soul Fire Farm, Black Kreyol farmer and food justice activist Leah Penniman is making it easier for those communities to become food sovereign and reclaim their rightful relationship to the land.
Penniman co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2010 on 80 acres of Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican territory in Grafton, New York. The farm works toward a goal of ending racism and injustice in the food industry with immersion programs that train BIPOC in regenerative farming practices, anti-racist trainings for environmentalists and food justice activists, and no-cost doorstep delivery of fresh produce and garden-building for people living under food apartheid in New York’s Albany-Troy area.
Zora spoke with Penniman about the legacy she’s contributing to as a food sovereignty activist, systemic racism and injustice in America’s food systems, and how Soul Fire Farm is adapting amid a global pandemic.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: In your book, Farming While Black, you tell the story of your grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother, Susie Boyd, who braided seeds into her hair before being kidnapped from West Africa and taken to the so-called New World. How does this legacy of food sovereignty inspire your work?
Leah Penniman: Part of healing my own relationship to land as a Black person has been understanding that it goes beyond slavery, sharecropping, and land-based oppression.
I do this by diving into the legacies of people like George Washington Carver, who was one of the founders of regenerative agriculture, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who…