Excerpted from the Spring 2019 edition of Communities, “Community Land”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.
transcribed/edited by Dana Belanger and Chris Roth
In November 2018 FIC Executive Director Sky Blue interviewed Leah Penniman, cofounder of Soul Fire Farm (www.soulfirefarm.org). Started as a small family farm in Grafton, New York, Soul Fire has become a community farm run by a nonprofit, people-of-color-led organization (Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc.) that works to dismantle racism in the food system by increasing farmland stewardship by people of color, promoting equity in food access, and training the next generation of activist farmers. Leah is the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, published in October 2018 by Chelsea Green, and is also a member of the resident community on Soul Fire’s 72 acres. Following is an edited transcript of that wide-ranging conversation, which is also available in its entirety as an audio file at ic.org/soulfirefarminterview.
Sky: At Soul Fire Farm, who owns the land and how is it governed?
Leah: The land is actually in ownership transition, from our family to collective ownership. We are forming a co-op to own the land, with the help of a pro bono legal clinic at Pace University. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, just trying to make what we call “White Man’s Law” bend to our needs to share the land cooperatively. But the members of that co-op are different from Soul Fire Farm.
Soul Fire Farm is a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to ending racism and injustice in the food system. We have a staff, programs, and outcomes. That nonprofit will be one of the voting member-owners of the co-op along with other residents of the land who are not necessarily a part of Soul Fire Farm. The founding members of the co-op include the nonprofit, with one vote for its board and one vote for its staff who live on the land—myself, my partner Jonah, our two children, my sister Naima, and then Taina and her family who have a yurt on the land—with six more member-owner shares open and essentially for sale.
As Soul Fire Farm, we’re working very hard to return land and resources to the descendants of those from whom it was stolen. Probably the most exciting thing that we’re working on right now, in relation to communities and shared land, is the Northeast Farmers of Color Community Land Trust. This is a collaboration between over a dozen northeastern Indigenous tribal communities, northeast Indigenous bands, and Black and Latinx and Asian and Indigenous farmers in the northeast who all are struggling with being either dispossessed from land, or reduced to a very small part of their ancestral territories. They are in the process of forming a two-tiered land trust: a 501(c)(3) that has the ability to operate both in the sphere of conservation easements and cultural heritage easements, as well as the community land trust sphere of affordable housing. We’ll also have subsidiary 501(c)(2)s that operate on the local level for all of the different land holdings of that land trust.
Right now we’re hosting skill shares to educate community members about how land trusts work. We’re super excited about this process because it’s bringing together communities that have historically struggled for good reason around trust and collaboration. We really believe that to talk about land sovereignty without centering the voices and power of the Indigenous communities makes absolutely no sense and is disingenuous.
Sky: Can you tell me a little bit of the story of how Soul Fire Farm came to be?
Leah: Sure! There are many birth points for everything, but the land sort of chose Jonah and me and our family in 2006. We started out with a vision around increasing food access to communities living under food apartheid because we had been living for several years in the south end of Albany where it is a real struggle to get food. It is a low-income, low-wealth community with no grocery stores or public transportation, and so our neighbors were encouraging us to create the farm for the people. So Soul Fire Farm was born with a somewhat narrow but important goal: getting food for the people.
We purchased affordable, marginal land that had no human development on it: no road, no septic, no electric, no houses…and no soil really—about seven inches of topsoil over hard pan clay. So we spent from 2006 to 2010, just friends and family, building up. We built our house and education center—strawbale, timber frame, passive-solar, all natural—and we started doing soil repair. Then we opened the farm in 2011 with just a very small CSA, 20 families. We were doing that on the weekends and the evenings around both of us having full-time jobs. Jonah was running a building business, and I was doing public school teaching. We’d deliver eggs and veggies and meat and stuff into the community on Sundays.
Over time that’s really grown into what is now a community farm, run by Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc., a nonprofit organization. Depending on the time of year, there are between four and nine of us on staff, and we certainly have kept the core of what Soul Fire Farm is, which is to grow food using sustainable, regenerative, Afro-Indigenous methods that restore the land and provide that food to communities under food apartheid. We use the sliding scale model, we use doorstep delivery, and we now feed 100 families with this food every week during the growing season.
In addition to that we provide a number of training programs for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian farmers who we call the returning generation of farmers: peoples whose grandparents, great grandparents were kicked off the land, forced off the land, who are now wanting to reconnect to the earth, So we do farmer training, builder training, wilderness survival—all of these skills that help folks make a life on land. We’ve had over 500 graduates from our intensive, week-long, more advanced program, and most of those folks are doing incredible things as far as being growers and being food system activists.
The third and final thing that we work on is reparations work: working on policies and practices regionally and nationally that address the return of land and resources and power to the descendants of those from whom it was stolen. That’s where the land trust comes in. We also work nationally with the HEAL Food Alliance, a national Black food and justice alliance, on their reparations and policy work and so on.
So that’s the overview of Soul Fire: it started as a small family thing and now it’s a community farm.
Sky: When you started off were you planning on or anticipating going in all of these different, bigger-scale directions, or was it just like, we need to feed people, or was it both?
Leah: We always intended to have more folks live on the land with us. We didn’t know what model that would take. We’d been part of a few stop-and-start rural intentional community projects, focusing on it together. They had the idea, and then when it came down to folks laying down the money, it kind of fizzled out. So we had that intention but we also decided, we’re not going to wait anymore. We’re just going to do this and see how it emerges.
Something that’s been so powerful about it is that we could never have anticipated it being in exactly the form that it is—because every step we took was in response to the community’s needs and demands. Our youth program came out of parents who were getting our food share saying, “Our young people are being criminalized and rounded up in the summer, they don’t have anything to do—can we send them out to the farm and you’ll teach them some skills?” Our training program for adult farmers came out of people calling us up from different places in the country saying, “There are not Black-led farms where we can learn, and we’re experiencing discrimination in our apprenticeships—can you start something for us?” And so on. The land work came out of alumni saying, “Now we know how to farm, but we don’t have land.” And what’s been exciting about that is we haven’t ever felt like we’ve had to force our will on community and say, “Soul Fire is this and you all need to get with it.” It’s always been really molding and adapting and changing into what people need.
So it’s yes and no. Yes we knew we wanted to expand the vision of how we would serve community, but we didn’t have a 10-year plan that we developed in isolation.
Sky: You’ve planted a seed that has grown into this amazing thing. Where did the motivation to plant that initial seed come from for you?
Leah: I started farming when I was 16 years old with the Food Project in Lincoln and Boston, Massachusetts. That was a real homecoming for me because I had a lot of identity struggles, I had experience in my family of poverty and addiction, all of these early childhood traumas, and I was looking for meaning. Farming became that—an opportunity to demonstrate both my love of the earth, my passion for environmental stewardship, as well as social justice—and I never looked back. So there was that spark there of wanting to create a farm and having experience farming. In the years after the Food Project I worked at several northeast rural farms and it was a predominantly white, predominantly apolitical situation, so I had a little bit of crisis of faith in wondering if this was the right path—if I was being a race traitor, if I should get into housing advocacy or education or gun violence issues or some of the issues that seem more near and dear to the Black community.
There was a really beautiful moment at one of the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Conferences, when I was an older teen. I’d gone around and given these little slips of paper out to anyone who appeared Black, Latinx, Indigenous, saying let’s meet under this tree at 1 pm and talk about what it’s like being POC in this movement. Maybe a dozen people came and Karen Washington was one of them, who is one of the cofounders of Rise and Root Farm, also the founder of the Black Urban Growers and the Black Farmers Conference. All of this came later, but at the time she said, you know what, don’t give up, we belong here in this movement, and one day we’re gonna have our own conference, and just hang in there, you’ll see. And she’s become an important mentor and friend for me over the years, but that was a moment of really deciding, just like my grandfather had done being one of the first Black engineers at NASA: there doesn’t seem to be a space for people of color here, but we’re gonna make a space. We’re gonna be the trailblazers and allow space for others. That motivation was the seed of the seed for Soul Fire Farm.
Sky: Maybe say a little more about why you think food and farming and access to land is so important for marginalized people.
Leah: Oh my goodness it’s essential. The whole food system is built on a racist DNA. The original sin of this nation is the genocide and displacement of millions of Indigenous First Nations people, and then it was followed by the stolen labor which built the wealth of this country, which was predominantly African labor at first, and then through the Bracero Program and H-2A (temporary foreign agricultural workers) became the labor of folks born outside the United States, especially from Mexico and the Caribbean. And today, depending on what census you look at, between 95 and 98 percent of the rural land is controlled by white folks. That is more than it was in 1910, more concentration of control in the hands of one racial group—which is really, really dangerous, because you know, as Malcolm X talks about, land is the basis of all power, all dignity, all freedom, and land doesn’t just give us the opportunities to provide for our material sustenance and have businesses, it also gives us the capacity for autonomy and resistance.
Fannie Lou Hamer talks a lot about this. She was the founder of the Freedom Farm Co-op in Sunflower County and she had 70 families living there and she said if you have 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup canned for the winter, no one can push you around and tell you what to do. So if you’re, in contrast, really depending on the empire, depending on a system that hates you, for all of your basic sustenance, you’re not going to be able to really resist that system because you’re intertwined with its success.
In the Civil Rights Movement the Black farmers were the backbone. They were the ones who provided the meeting space, the bail money, they provided lodging and food and protection for all of the activists who came down for Freedom Summer and for the other voter registration campaigns because obviously no white-run hotel or restaurant was going to support these rabble-rousers. We literally would not have a Civil Rights Movement, we would not have a Civil Rights Act, if it wasn’t for land-owning independent Black farmers.
So we lose a lot of our capacity for resistance when we don’t own our land, and then of course the obvious consequence is not having access to good food and all of the repercussions in terms of diet-related illness. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and ADHD are all related to lack of access to good food, which is in turn tied to our food sovereignty and our ability to produce sustenance within our own communities.
Sky: I’ve heard people talk about reparations as something that needs to happen outside of a capitalist context—that we can’t think about reparations as cutting people checks and then saying, “OK, here you go, good luck surviving in the capitalist economy,” but that it needs to be more about returning to people their ability to sustain themselves. It sounds like that’s along the lines of what you’re talking about.
Leah: Yeah, I think reparations—how it’s done, and when, and where—all that needs to be defined by the communities to whom those resources are owed. So I certainly wouldn’t pretend to speak for all Black and Indigenous people and say our reparations needs to be x, y, z. I think it’s very important for us to be listening and heeding, and not trying to do thinking on behalf of other people.
Ed Whitfield—who is another mentor of mine, a brilliant cooperative developer and lifelong activist—gave a really great analogy for reparations when we were last together. He said, “Imagine that your neighbor stole your cow and then after a couple weeks they felt bad that they stole your cow so they came over and they apologized profusely—‘I know it was wrong, I’m sorry I took your cow, and I’m gonna make it up to you. Every week for the rest of the cow’s life I’m going to bring you half a pound of butter at no cost.’ And of course you would be like, ‘Can I have my cow back?’”
And so reparations really is not about doling out some pittance of the wealth that our ancestors provided for this nation, but really giving back—if the cow in the story is the source of that wealth, that ability to have personal sustainability and community sustainability, you’ve gotta give back that whole cow.
Sky: It’s been amazing to me to see over the past couple years how much more comfortable with the conversation about reparations a lot of white people are becoming, but it’s still a touchy subject. I think for a lot of white people, part of where it gets touchy for them is that they feel like they’re being screwed too. There’s this sense of, “Well it doesn’t feel fair to me either”—it starts to feel even more unfair to them to be giving things to other people when they’re also being screwed. So I’m wondering if there’s anything you can say that would help understanding of why this is important.
Leah: Sure. We all suffer under capitalism, so I think it’s really dangerous to get into some sort of hierarchy of oppression conversation of who’s more oppressed or who deserves more. But white supremacy is real—and it can’t be summed up in a soundbite. I think that every white American certainly needs to read The Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, needs to read King Leopold’s Ghost to understand both the African and Indigenous oppressions and the three pillars of white supremacy.
Just to give one example, if you take on average the disparity in wealth between white and Black people right now in this country, according to the Pew Research Center, it is at least 13:1. So the average white person has 13 times the wealth of the average Black person. When I was born 38 years ago, it was 8:1. It was 4:1 the generation before. So there is an increasing aggregation and accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few by race. And that’s because 80 percent of wealth is inherited. The main way that people build intergenerational wealth is through property ownership, specifically the ownership of developed property—of houses.
And just one example of structural racism: in the 1930s the US government through the Housing Act commissioned these maps which have now become known as redlining maps. These maps essentially determined which neighborhoods were suitable for lending by banks and which neighborhoods were not suitable. And the ones that were not suitable were neighborhoods of people of color. They were outlined in red, and they did not get mortgages. So from the 1930s to present, even today for example in Detroit where my brother lives right now, people he works with who have two professional incomes in their household will not be able to get a mortgage within the city of Detroit because of this legacy of redlining. When folks came back after WWII with the GI Bill, only a handful of mortgages went to Black people—almost all went to white people. We’ve been denied since the ’30s this source of building intergenerational wealth.
So when we talk about reparations we’re not talking about a snapshot of the current moment. We’re looking at history, we’re looking at the 6.4 trillion dollars of stolen wealth from the labor of Black Americans who were working on plantations. And that wealth is still in the hands of white people; it’s still in the Schwab Corporation, etc. So we’re figuring out, how do we address those wrongs? You know, Germany’s doing it, other places are doing it. How do we not imagine that there was no history and that suddenly, “Oh, how come Black folks are poor now?—it must be their fault.” We really have to address an aggregate. And that’s not to say there might not be one exception or a few exceptions where this white person really has it rougher than all these people of color. We really need to look at the systemic level; how do we address these trends?
Sky: There’s an interesting parallel of questioning around racial diversity in intentional communities. A lot of people in predominantly white communities will ask, “Why aren’t there more people of color living in intentional communities?” One of the things that sometimes gets thrown out as a possible explanation is that “Oh, well people of color find their sense of community in other ways.” But that doesn’t acknowledge the fact that it’s mostly white people who have set up these intentional communities so that they’re not exactly very comfortable for people who don’t look like them. And then it also ignores the systemic discrimination and in some cases outright violence against people of color who have tried or are trying to organize in these ways. It’s not just an accident—“Oh, they just happen to find their community somewhere else.” There are actual forces involved here.
Leah: That’s a really good point. Folks might not know that the very first community land trust in the United States was started by Black families under the leadership of Charles and Shirley Sherrod, in 1969: New Communities in Albany, Georgia. They had 5,700 acres, they had 500 families involved in the planning phase, and they had remarkable success in many ways, but they experienced violence and terrorism, including by the governor of their own state. People were bombing their offices, diluting their fertilizer, killing off their hogs. They ended up being some of the plaintiffs in the Pigford v. Glickman case, which was settled out of court as the largest civil rights settlement in US history, which was against the US government for discriminating against Black farmers and driving Black farmers off their land. I’m not being sensationalist—this was a lawsuit where fault was assigned to the US government.
And the same with Fannie Lou Hamer with the Freedom Farm and a number of other examples. The Nation of Islam has their farm and community, but I think your point is really good that if something is founded by white folks it’s going to be infused with white culture with probably tacit white supremacy. It’s not going to be necessarily a safe space. We have to ask ourselves also what type of resource privilege is necessary to start communities in this day and age given all the barriers to entry—the legal hurdles that folks have to navigate as well as the purchase price of properties.
Mama Savi Horne of the Land Loss Prevention Project gave me this really beautiful insight at a recent conference where she was saying Black families and communities have lived cooperatively forever and we find ourselves in this legal system where it’s complicated to do that. And one of the ways that families try to preserve this, ironically, is through heir property. So instead of leaving a will and leaving your land to a certain number of people there’s this idea that if you don’t leave a will, it goes to heir property which is the idea that it’s just shared, somewhat vaguely in the legal context, by all of your descendants forever. This has gotten Black families into a lot of trouble because with heir property in most states you can’t take out a loan. You’re ineligible for a lot of the USDA programs to support your farm. If you have one unscrupulous developer and they can convince one of your heirs to sell out they might be able to force sale at auction. So it’s become a vehicle for Black land loss, ironically.
But Mama Savi reframed that and said it’s not that Black folks who don’t leave a will don’t care about their land, it’s just the way it’s always been in our communities that your land just belongs to your whole family—that is the intentional community. But we don’t really have a legal mechanism to support that as a default in this country. Our legal mechanisms support individualism as a default. So some legislation is being introduced in some states to try to switch that around—to make it harder for people to take advantage of heir property, and to give more support to families when their actual intention is, “We just want to share this with everyone.”
Which is a lot of what we talk about in intentional communities! How do we not have private ownership and da da da da da. So I think that the Black community is trying to do that. Certainly the Indigenous community is doing that with the way that reservations are held in common. And Indigenous communities are working with land trust models as well. So I would say white folks don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re in their own silos.
Sky: Right. Circling back to Soul Fire Farm, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced? And I’m thinking of both external systemic challenges you might have faced and also internal in terms of the healing and education with the people who’ve been a part of Soul Fire Farm—what they’ve had to confront. Or what the people doing programs have had to confront. What are some of the biggest challenges that you all have faced in this work in developing Soul Fire Farm?
Leah: Oh my god, so many challenges. Right now what’s up for us is just capacity, because there’s such a demand. Whoever tells you that Black and Brown folks don’t want to go back to the land is misinformed because we have such a demand for every program that we do, for our mentorship, our resources. One of the reasons we wrote Farming While Black as a book is to try to not gatekeep a lot of this knowledge—to just get it out there. Everything we know is in the book in some form so you can DIY your next steps, whether that’s about intentional community, or seed saving, creating youth programming, and all the rest.
So capacity is our biggest challenge but along the way resources have been a challenge for sure. The reason we got such marginal land is we didn’t have any money or funding. We had to dig the foundation for our house with shovels and if anyone knows the mountainous clay bouldery soils of Grafton, that’s a many-months feat and we’re lucky that we were young and naive and stubborn—that we pushed through and did that. And now a lot of folks who are alumni are experiencing similar things. They have the skills, they have the passion, but they are struggling to afford property or to get additional training.
Obviously we believe that the government should be partly responsible for coordinating reparations but in the meantime we’re doing our own grassroots version of that. Our alumni created a reparations map where folks with resources can go ahead and give directly to Black- and Brown-led land-based projects. We’ve had over a dozen folks get resources through that tool. We’re just trying to use our ingenuity and creativity to garner the resources we need within community while we wait for society to catch up.
Sky: Based on what I read on Soul Fire Farm’s website, part of the importance you see of access to land and farming is the relationship people create with land—that there’s a healing aspect to that in addition to everything else. You’re not just working on “How do we manage this land, how do we grow food?” There is something deeper, a healing, personal, spiritual aspect to that work that’s being brought in.
Leah: Yeah, definitely. Our folks have experienced centuries of oppression on land; I mentioned genocide and enslavement but there was also convict leasing and sharecropping. The Black land-owning farmers were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan for the audacity to own their own land—there were lynchings and cross burnings, a litany of violent acts against folks on the land. Land was the scene of the crime. I believe that trauma is inherited. There’s some science that shows it actually alters your gene expression.
And so when folks come back to the land, there can be a trigger response—like, I’m not stooping, I’m not getting dirty, this reminds me of slavery. And so part of the work we need to do—and this is work we need to do for ourselves within the Black and Brown community; it’s not anything that anyone else can or should do for us—is about healing and reconnecting and understanding that the land was not the criminal. The land has always been an ally and support to us. In African cosmology we understand that our ancestors contact us through our physical relationship with the earth. They give us guidance and love and messages and so if we don’t have that direct access to the land there’s a piece of wisdom that we’re missing.
What that looks like at Soul Fire is we’re using those same Afro-Indigenous tools. We’re using drumming and singing, spiritual baths, storytelling as means of reconnecting to the land in a way that feels healthy and whole and based on free choice and dignity, as opposed to oppression and restraint.
Sky: So it’s a very holistic thing: the connections between growing food and systemic injustice and deep spiritual healing. Is there more that you can say to articulate this very holistic vision for all that you’re working with?
Leah: I would say our big end game as Soul Fire Farm is to, as Black and Brown people, reclaim our inherent right to belong to the earth and to have agency and decision making in the food system. Part of that certainly is technical. It’s about learning about land tenure models and soil testing and remediation. And part of that is about rekindling our sense of hope and belonging and agency and possibility.
One of the ways that the empire does its work is to convince us that our range of possibilities is much smaller than it really is. For example, for many young Black men, the only thing that the empire wants them to believe is in their future is compliance to a corporate model or they’re going to be imprisoned or dead at an early age. So when young folks come out to the farm and they’re like, “Wait a minute, you built that house? and you like hip hop? and you’re growing food? and your momma lives here?,” it’s just blowing their minds because those were not given in the range of menu options. There’s the technical knowledge but a big part is just about healing our sense of what’s possible and believing in ourselves again and all the potential paths that our ancestors laid out for us and prepared for us—that we can reconnect to that destiny.
Sky: How do you see the role of allies in supporting the work that you all and the other groups you’re connected to are doing?
Leah: As I mentioned earlier, I think that allies’ work in reparations really has to follow the lead of individuals and collectives that are organized by the folks most impacted by that harm, so Black- and Indigenous-led collectives. Not everyone’s going to agree on what reparations should look like. Certainly when we put out the reparations map there were folks in our wider circles—national Black-led organizations—who were like, “Actually we were trying to think about reparations in this other way, we want to have a collective pot and we distribute it”—and that’s totally legit too. I also would caution against imagining that any person of color speaks for the whole. But it really is nothing for us without us. So…taking leadership from Black- and Indigenous-led organizations.
We spent some time surveying mostly Black returning-generation farmers to ask what needs to change in the system, where do we need to put resources, what policies need to change, what should allies be doing? If you go to soulfirefarm.org, under the Support page there’s a Take Action link that has this all laid out, so anyone can give input. And chapter 16 in Farming While Black is all dedicated to allies so it has a lot more detail about what it really means to pass the oars and follow the lead of folks of color in terms of reparations work.
Sky: What are questions that I should be asking you that I haven’t asked you yet?
Leah: I’ll add one more thing. As we talk about the land I think it’s really important for us to remember that the land is not a commodity or just a material entity. Again harkening back to Afro-Indigenous cosmology, the land is a living, breathing, sovereign being. I have spiritual mentors in Ghana, west Africa, called the Queen Mothers, or manye, and they were really incredulous to learn that farmers in the United States would plant a seed and they wouldn’t pray over it, or dance, or offer any libation, and they expected that seed to grow and produce nourishing food for the community. And they were like, “That’s why your society is sick, clearly, because you’re just seeing this as a transactional relationship with the earth—input, output.”
So when we talk about land sovereignty, or farming, or any of this stuff, we have to remember to really pay attention to the needs of the earth. Industrial agriculture is destroying the planet, is a major driver of climate change, of land use conversions and water withdrawals. We know how to do an agriculture that’s different, that can feed the planet without destroying the resource base. And we both need to do that in a material sense, through those actions, and also to consider the earth as living.
We spend a lot of time offering prayer and song and even using tools like divination to find out if the land agrees with a plan that we have. One thing that’s really great about the legal team we’re working with in creating this new co-op to own our land is we’re asking, “What is the legal precedent for giving personhood to the land?,” because we want to put that into the bylaws of the organization. So they’ve been looking internationally and found, for example, in New Zealand the court gave personhood to a river. So we’re building some of that into these western legal documents. We’re very excited about taking these tools and making them do what we want them to do.
Sky: I’m reminded of the Rights of Nature work happening especially in Latin America. It’s along these lines of decommodifying and recognizing personhood in nature. This whole fundamental questioning of basic assumptions around private property is something that we’re increasingly trying to press on with the FIC—assumptions about privacy, ownership, all of these sort of things that we just take so for granted in society. When you really start looking at it, the idea of private property is absurd.
Leah: It’s absurd! Owning a section of the earth?
Sky: That only you get to decide what happens on it and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks and how it might impact…it’s so weird when you really start to think about it.
Leah: Yes. I’m checking out Rights of Nature too. We’re learning a lot as we go and it’s cool because even though we’re so at the beginning of all of this, people in our community are so thirsty for it they’re trying to model stuff after us and they’re just three months behind us. It’s pretty exciting.
Sky: Any other last thoughts?
Leah: No… Thank you for asking provocative questions!
Leah Penniman is a Black Kreyol farmer who has been tending the soil for 22 years and organizing for an anti-racist food system for 16 years. Her book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land offers the first comprehensive manual for African-heritage people ready to reclaim their rightful place of agency in the food system. It includes stories from her work developing Soul Fire Farm; concise how-to guidance for all aspects of small-scale farming, including finding land and resources, writing a farm business plan, preserving the harvest and saving seed, and other essential areas; and sections on honoring the spirits of the land, healing from trauma, movement building, uprooting racism, and more. It is available through FIC Communities Bookstore at here. See also the review by Ira Wallace in this issue.
Sky Blue is Executive Director of the Fellowship for Intentional Community. A veteran of Twin Oaks Community and before that a housing collective, a student housing cooperative, and a cohousing community, and initiator of two small worker cooperatives and a small car-sharing system, he has dedicated much of his adult life to furthering the larger cooperative movement.
Excerpted from the Spring 2019 edition of Communities, “Community Land”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.