Today, less than 1% of farmland in the US is owned by black people. According to Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm, “black people’s collective experience with slavery and sharecropping has created an aversion to the land and a sense that the land itself is an oppressor. The truth is that without good land and good food we cannot be truly free.” Connecting young people to the land is at the heart of Soul Fire’s mission – and it seems they are succeeding.
Soul Fire Farm is a biodiverse family farm near Albany, New York, committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system: “The biggest killers of black Americans today are not guns or violence, but diet-related diseases,” Penniman points out. “These illnesses affect minorities at greater rates than white people, in part because of a broken food system that allows only certain populations to access healthy food while subsidizing low-quality food for the rest.”
Seventy percent of the families that receive Soul Fire CSA shares live in ‘food deserts’ in the nearby cities of Albany and Troy, where there is little fresh food available. Soul Fire works to provide boxes of vegetables at subsidized rates and accepts SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) so that no one is denied access because of their economic status.
Soul Fire also donates produce to the New York City-based Victory Bus Project, a project of the Freedom Food Alliance. Families are able to purchase a box of farm-fresh vegetables at an affordable rate, and are given transportation to visit family members in upstate prisons. Along the way, they talk about the prison industrial complex, and how food sovereignty offers a systemic alternative.
Soul Fire Farm is working to grow not only food, but farmers as well. They offer training programs for aspiring Black, Latino and Indigenous farmers, and restorative justice training programs that offer an alternative to incarceration for youth caught up in the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
A young man named Asan, who first worked at Soul Fire as an alternative to prison (and expected it to be just barely better) left saying: “I could see myself having my own farm one day.”
Please click here to read Leah’s whole Yes! Magazine article “Radical Farmers Use Fresh Food to Fight Racial Injustice and the New Jim Crow.” And be sure to visit Soul Fire Farm and Freedom Food Alliance.