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Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land

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James Beard Foundation Leadership Award 2019: Leah Penniman

Choice Reviews, Outstanding Academic Title

"An extraordinary book...part agricultural guide, part revolutionary manifesto."—VOGUE

Named a "Best Book on Sustainable Living and Sustainability" by Book Riot

In 1920, 14 percent of all land-owning US farmers were black. Today less than 2 percent of farms are controlled by black people—a loss of over 14 million acres and the result of discrimination and dispossession. While farm management is among the whitest of professions, farm labor is predominantly brown and exploited, and people of color disproportionately live in “food apartheid” neighborhoods and suffer from diet-related illness. The system is built on stolen land and stolen labor and needs a redesign.

Farming While Black is the first comprehensive “how to” guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture. At Soul Fire Farm, author Leah Penniman co-created the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion (BLFI) program as a container for new farmers to share growing skills in a culturally relevant and supportive environment led by people of color. Farming While Black organizes and expands upon the curriculum of the BLFI to provide readers with a concise guide to all aspects of small-scale farming, from business planning to preserving the harvest. Throughout the chapters Penniman uplifts the wisdom of the African diasporic farmers and activists whose work informs the techniques described—from whole farm planning, soil fertility, seed selection, and agroecology, to using whole foods in culturally appropriate recipes, sharing stories of ancestors, and tools for healing from the trauma associated with slavery and economic exploitation on the land. Woven throughout the book is the story of Soul Fire Farm, a national leader in the food justice movement.

The technical information is designed for farmers and gardeners with beginning to intermediate experience. For those with more experience, the book provides a fresh lens on practices that may have been taken for granted as ahistorical or strictly European. Black ancestors and contemporaries have always been leaders—and continue to lead—in the sustainable agriculture and food justice movements. It is time for all of us to listen.

"A moving and powerful how-to book for Black farmers to reclaim the occupation and the contributions of the BIPOC community that introduced sustainable agriculture."—

"Leah Penniman is . . . opening the door for the next generation of farmers."—CBS This Morning

ISBN-13: 9781603587617

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing

Publication Date: 10-30-2018

Pages: 368

Product Dimensions: 7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Leah Penniman, the 2019 recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, is a Black Kreyol farmer who has been organizing for an anti-racist food system for over fifteen years. She began with the Food Project in Boston, Massachusetts, and went on to work at Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts, and Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, Massachusetts. She cofounded Youth Grow urban farm in Worcester, Massachusetts. She currently serves as founding co-executive director of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, a people-of-color led project that works to dismantle racism in the food system through a low cost fresh food delivery service for people living under food apartheid, training programs for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous aspiring farmer-activists, Uprooting Racism training for food justice leaders, and regional-national-international coalition building between farmers of color advocating for policy shifts and reparations. She has dedicated her life’s work to racial justice in the food system and has been recognized by the Soros Equality Fellowship, NYSHealth Emerging Innovator Awards, The Andrew Goodman Foundation Hidden Heroes Award, Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program, New Tech Network National Teaching Award, Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching (New York finalist), among others. She has contributed to two published volumes, authored numerous online articles, and given dozens of public talks on the subject.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction Black Land Matters 1

Chapter 1 Finding Land and Resources 11

Accessing Land 12

Farm Skills Training 16

Gathering Material Resources 20

Chapter 2 Planning Your Farm Business 27

Worker-Owned Cooperative Business Model 29

Farm-Share, Community-Supported Agriculture 38

Food Hubs 42

Communal Labor Practices 44

Writing Your Farm Business Plan 48

Chapter 3 Honoring the Spirits of the Land 53

Sacred Literature 56

Offerings to Azaka and Orisa Oko 59

Planting and Harvesting Rituals 62

Herbal Baths 64

Songs and Chants 66

Chapter 4 Restoring Degraded Land 71

Remediating Soil Contaminated with Lead 72

Healing Erosion with Terraces 78

Agroforestry for Soil Restoration 80

No-Till and Biological Tillage 84

Chapter 5 Feeding the Soil 87

Soil Tests 88

Compost 94

Soil Ecology 96

Cover Crops 99

Chapter 6 Crop Planning 103

Annual Crops 104

Distant Cousins 116

Polycultures 123

Farm Layouts with Rotations 126

Chapter 7 Tools and Technology 129

Bed Preparation 130

Propagation 135

Transplanting and Direct Seeding 139

Irrigation 140

Weeding and Crop Maintenance 142

Harvest 145

Apparel and Gear 147

Chapter 8 Seed Keeping 149

Why Save Seed? 150

The Seed Garden 152

The Seed Harvest 155

Seed Exchange 159

Chapter 9 Raising Animals 163

Raising Chickens for Eggs 164

Raising Chickens for Meat 168

Raising Pigs 176

Meat and Sustainability 179

Chapter 10 Plant Medicine 181

Species Accounts of Cultivated Plant Allies 182

Species Accounts of Wildcrafted Plant Allies 189

Growing an Herb Garden 196

Herbal Preparations 199

Chapter 11 Urban Farming 205

Laws and Land Access 207

Clean Soil, Clean Water 210

Growing in Small Spaces 215

Community 222

Chapter 12 Cooking and Preserving 223

African Food Pyramid 224

Recipes 226

Food Preservation 236

No Money, No Time 241

Chapter 13 Youth on Land 245

Why Youth on Land? 246

Best Practices in Youth Programming 248

Youth Food Justice Curriculum 252

Chapter 14 Healing from Trauma 263

Historical Trauma: An Annotated Timeline 265

Internalized Racism 273

Healing Ourselves 275

Chapter 15 Movement Building 281

Litigation 284

Education 285

Direct Action 287

Land Defense 289

Policy Change 291

Consumer Organizing 295

Mutual Aid and Survival Programs 297

Chapter 16 White People Uprooting Racism

Reparations 301

Forming Interracial Alliances 304

Organizational Transformation 306

Calling In 309

Personal Development 312

Afterword 317

Closing Poem Black Gold 318

Resources 321

Notes 325

Index 338