LEAH PENNIMAN on SOUL FIRE FARM & FARMING WHILE BLACK
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Last week we heard from nationally renowned gardener Margaret Roach in which she shared one of her greatest hopes is for people younger than her to be taking up the joy and work of stewarding this world of Cultivating our Places - for food, for beauty, for biodiversity, and for the deep love of this planet. So over the next two week’s we’ll be speaking with two different women doing just that. In this season of graduation and commencement speeches, of looking back in order to look forward with hope and power, this week's BEST OF episode features a woman from whom I'd love to hear a commencement address: Leah Penniman – of Soul Fire Farm, and author of Farming While Black.
Happy June, Enjoy!
I’m a big believer in the idea that if there is something we are concerned about in this world – there are gardeners and gardens working to address that concern from their hearts and through the power of their gardening impulse. Some of the greatest concerns of our world – violence, poverty, climate change, social injustice, inequality, well-being, community, peace, nature deficit disorder and just about all of the isms – elitism, classism, ageism, sexism, and racism are being offset in our world in ways large and small by gardeners near you.
The egregious disconnect and disservice to humanity that is racism in all its forms in our world can be and sometimes are – I am ashamed and horrified to say - perpetuated by limited conceptualizations of gardening in our world, in cultural perceptions/and marketing propaganda that my friend Leslie Bennett refers to as the "Unbearable Whiteness of Gardening." But that white-dominated, culturally promulgated perception of the whiteness of gardening is a false and disingenuous lens on what it is to be a gardener and it is disservice to the intersectional space that gardening is and gardens are in this world. Like any universal connector that our cultural literacy rests on – food, art, music, history, literature, family, faith, and love – gardening is something that connects us all.
When I first encountered the work of Leah Penniman at Soul Fire Farm in New York State, I was amazed, expanded, grateful, and admiring. With the publication of her first book, FARMING WHILE BLACK : Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, out this month from Chelsea Green Publishing – I am even more grateful for her work in this world.
Leah is co-founder with her husband and children of Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, NY, a working farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. The Soul Fire Farm community raise life-giving food and through that food, celebration, education and advocacy, they act in solidarity with people marginalized by food apartheid. As the farm website states: "With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system. We bring diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, natural building, spiritual activism, health and environmental justice. We are training the next generation of activist-farmers and strengthening the movements for food sovereignty and community self-determination."
Leah joined us via Skype from her home at Soul Fire Farm.
"That was a pivotal point, when I decided that rather than
looking around for others to validate whether I belonged,
I would find the strength to stand on the shoulders of my ancestors
and push forward with this vision for food and land sovereignty for black people."
Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm
The Soul Fire Farm community – comprised of families, supporters, teachers, and students from their nourishing and culturally relevant CSA, youth program and Black Latin x and Indigenous Farmers trainings and more – are spreading powerful and meaningful engagement with the land across the country.
Leah’s new book about her work and her life experiences leading to this work: “Farming While Black,” is out from Chelsea Green Press. She has been speaking widely about the book and the work of Soul Fire Farm since the book was published last fall – make sure to check the Soul Fire Farm website to see when and if she’ll be speaking in a location near you.
In the end of our conversation, Leah touches on the universal need – black, brown, white, what ever your color or age or gender or passions – we all need a connection to the land and we all also need to contribute to justice and well being in our world. It’s part of what it fundamentally means to be human. This human quest to find what kind of healing and justice this world really needs and where our passions are. At the intersection of those two things you will find your own calling.
Join us again next week as the conversations continue when we’re joined by Nadia Ruffin, based in Cincinnati, Ohio entomologist and educator working to share her love of the natural world, from cockroaches and silkworms to soil and fresh produce – with students old and young. She is a dedicated voice for the beauty and health of the intricate and interconnected systems all around us, no matter who we are or where we live. There are so many ways that people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH LEAH's WORK at SOUL FIRE FARM, and on INSTAGRAM: @soulfirefarm
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THINKING OUT LOUD this week....
Leah recognized early in her life that to see a difference she would have to be it – think of the amount of courage let alone hard hard work over and over again that it takes to be the reflection of what you want to see in this world - for those who are coming after you, for those who work beside you this kind of courage is not to be underestimated.
I believe that to greater or lesser extent this is what all of our gardens can represent. Leah has scaled this belief up to it’s highest manifestation.
Leah uses the term proximal impetus to describe the moment when her desire to not only feed her own family but to help feed the neighbors in her community in urban Albany, New York. This combined urgency was the proximal impetus that got her and Jonah and their young children to look for and buy the land that is now the cooperatively owned Soul Fire Farm – committed to ending racism in the food system.
When I think back on my own life and work and I think of different moments where proximal impetus moved me in one direction over another, I am both moved and fascinated by what gets us to finally embrace what the universe has clearly intended for us.
For me the beginning of Cultivating Place was such a moment. Our larger culture and even we ourselves as gardeners often dismiss or diminish the power and influence possible through our gardens and gardening. I really believe our best selves are brought to bear in the garden and if we can tap into them and bring them to bear more regularly, more consciously on the concerns of the bigger world – think of the potential.
Working to offset that diminishment of the power of gardening was the proximal impetus for me - I wonder as you look at your own life what is or would be the proximal impetus for you to celebrate the you that shows up in the garden and bring that person to the forefront of what you bring to the world every day?
I hope you are as expanded, inspired and humbled - energized by Leah’s work at Soul Fire Farm as I am.
There are so many ways that people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
If you ever want to connect more directly to me – or to one another – comment on weekly posts on Instagram and Facebook – I always enjoy hearing from you and connecting back.
Thank you for listening and for SHARING Cultivating Place WITH FRIENDS.
The value of conversations like these is powerful action for positive shifts in this world.