Cultivating a Fairer Food System

NESHIMA VITALE-PENNIMAN

As the cofounder of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, which began as a community farm and has since grown into a sprawling organization that aims to end injustice in the food system, Leah Penniman already knew her work was essential. It just took a pandemic for New York State to call it that.

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Black farmers are scarce in this country, where 98 percent of the land, dispossessed over the past century, is now white-owned. Soul Fire offers a residential training program to educate would-be farmers of color, as well as food shares on a sliding cost scale and help with matching resources (like land to farm, or funding) with farmers’ needs through a reparations project coordinated by Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust. Through her work at Soul Fire and her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, Penniman has become a leader in the movement for land redistribution, rights for farmworkers, and access for everyone to affordable, nutritious food. When food insecurity skyrocketed during COVID-19, people were finally ready to listen. “It’s a blessing but also overwhelming that so many people are having their awakening right now,” Penniman said.

As demand for her expertise grows, Penniman is keeping her hands in the soil. Her goal remains the same: “that we have fairness and justice in the food system—as my daughter would say, from sunshine to plate.”