On February 24, Leah Penniman entertained the Log Lunch crowd with a presentation full of information, justice and even a bit of poetry. She is an educator, a farmer, a writer, and a food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York. According to Leah, despite how the world may seem today, our ancestors had it far worse. Leah’s great, great grandmother was taken from her home as a slave. She hid seeds in her hair for the “uncertain future on soil” inspiring Leah to connect with the soil at Soul Fire Farm.
Right now, there is injustice in our food system. Karen Washington describes it as a “food apartheid.” People claim that there are food deserts across our nation. Leah and Karen disagree. According to Karen, deserts are natural biomes. An apartheid is a human created racism, stemming from policy, environmental racism and zoning. According to Leah, we must look at the ugly truth to solve the problem.
According to Leah, African Americans used to own land across the U.S. post-slavery. Black land owners had accumulated 16 million acres of land, but lost it all due to the USDA. The disproportionate land ownership still exists today across the country and is only getting worse.
Leah has always believed that “to free ourselves, we must feed ourselves.” We cannot take no action and be complacent. She was living in a food apartheid area where she struggled to support her children with good, healthy food. That’s why she started Soul Fire Farm; to end the racism and injustice.
Goals for Soul Fire according to Leah:
#1: Feed our People: Regenerate farming and improve the environment: Using environmentally friendly methods including local timber from own land to build structures.
#2: Reclaiming our rightful place of agency of the land: Implementing farm training and mentorship specifically to Blacks and Latinos. So far, Soul Fire has trained over 300 activists.
#3: Uplift our Ancestors and Elders
#4: Uplift our Youth: Using the Food Justice Program, Soul Fire Farm has hosted 1,319 youth food and justice trainees.
#5: Build a movement to end state violence on bodies: End mass-incarceration using social justice training.
“Soul Fire Farm is a family farm committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system”
For more information on how to support or volunteer for Soul Fire Farm please visit: http://www.soulfirefarm.org
-Caroline Beckmann ’17