“Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming & Food Justice” with Leah Penniman

Leah Penniman, from Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, NY, came to Williams and gave a talk that focused on the themes of uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. Leah explained that in order to understand our present-day food system and the injustices contained within it, we must look at its history and recognize that it is rooted in the theft of land and exploitation of labor: as part of the colonisation of the US, farms were established on lands stolen from indigenous people, and they were worked by slaves. Therefore the agricultural industry was literally built on the lands and labor of people of color. 

These patterns of injustice and inequity have continued through history – in the forms of convict leasing, sharecropping, KKK violence against blacks, immigrant labor programs, the exclusion of farmworkers under New Deal programs, the USDA’s denial of loans to black farmers, and redlining practices – and shape our current food system. Today, the system is characterized by areas of food scarcity and food apartheid, higher levels of hunger and diet-related illnesses in communities of color, the disproportionately low number of blacks and Latinx in agricultural labor positions as opposed to management positions, as well as disproportionate owenership of land. 

In trying to work towards a better food system, Leah emphasized the importance of remembering, and of developing more sovereignty around food. Soul Fire Farm’s mission is to work to regenerate the soil that they farm on, train the next generation of farmers of color, and be a part of the effort to build a movement for a more just food system. Leah ended by reminding us that we all eat food and we all live on land, and therefore the food system is everyone’s business. However it is imperative to follow the lead of the people most impacted by the system, and help them achieve their vision of a just and sustainable food system. 

By Maya Spalding-Fecher ’21