Everyone deserves protected, wholesome, and reasonably priced meals for his or her households. You shouldn’t must be wealthy, have a sure pores and skin coloration, or develop up in the fitting neighborhood, so as to have the ability to eat meals that’s good for you. But not everybody has entry to equal alternatives.

The well being alternative hole typically performs out alongside traces of race and sophistication. People who’re white and find the money for take pleasure in an a variety of benefits that result in higher well being. Typically, they will afford higher diets. White folks and individuals who find the money for are likely to have entry to extra nutritious meals and details about which meals are, in actual fact, more healthy to eat. They have higher housing and safer working situations. There’s extra inexperienced house and areas for recreation — and extra alternatives to train recurrently the place they stay. They have extra entry to well being care providers and are much less uncovered to numerous sorts of air pollution.

All of this results in effectively-documented well being disparities. People of coloration and folks of low earnings are way more more likely to die from most cancers, endure from despair, be overweight, have hypertension, and endure from kind 2 diabetes and coronary heart illness.

What’s inflicting these well being disparities? How does racism play into it? And most significantly, what are you able to and I do about it?

Recently, I sat down with Leah Penniman, co-founding father of Soul Fire Farm, to ask her take. Soul Fire Farm is dedicated to ending racism within the meals system. They develop wholesome meals for communities of coloration, and so they’ve taught tens of 1000’s of individuals, of all backgrounds, develop wholesome meals, take energetic steps to dismantle racism, and construct a more healthy world for all of us.

Here’s a evenly edited model of our dialog.

Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm


Below is the edited transcript of the video above:

Ocean Robbins: I’m Ocean Robbins, and I’m thrilled to deliver you this particular interview with Leah Penniman, who’s the co-founder and co-director of Soul Fire Farm.

Leah has over 20 years of expertise as a soil steward and meals sovereignty activist. She’s labored at The Food Project, Farm School, Many Hands Organic Farm, Youth Grow, and with farmers internationally in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico.

In 2010, Leah co-based Soul Fire Farm as a black-, indigenous-, and folks of coloration-centered group farm dedicated to ending racism and injustice within the meals system. She’s the writer of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land. And she’s one of many main voices within the grassroots motion for meals justice. I really feel so honored to have this time with her.

Healthy, Ethical, and Sustainable Food for All

Ocean Robbins: I simply wish to converse personally for a second. I based Food Revolution Network with my dad in 2012. We’re dedicated to wholesome, moral, and sustainable meals for all. As we’ve been persevering with that mission, reaching thousands and thousands of individuals, one of many issues that retains developing, time and again, is that with a purpose to be true to the “for all” a part of our mission, it takes proactive intention.

Because there’s one thing of an apartheid proper now on the planet of meals. Not all people has entry to the identical farms, the identical agricultural capacities, or the identical monetary assets. And whenever you take a look at it statistically, there’s an enormous divide. Statistically, the darker your pores and skin coloration within the United States right this moment, the extra probably you might be to rely, for almost all of your energy, on unhealthy meals.

And we wish to change that. Which is why we’re right here right this moment to speak about what we will do and the way we will be part of transformation, to deliver extra therapeutic, love, justice, and wellness for everybody. Leah, thanks a lot for being right here.

Leah Penniman: Thank you on your consciousness and dedication to essentially making meals accessible for all folks, which is definitely what we stand for at Soul Fire. So thanks.

Farming While Black

hands holding sapling in dirt

Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. You know, your guide, Farming While Black — which is great by the best way, everybody ought to get a replica — it’s devoted to the African ancestors who, earlier than boarding slave ships, braided seeds into their hair. And once I learn that, I felt a chill undergo my physique. I wish to ask you, how do these African ancestors inform the work that you just do right this moment?

Leah Penniman: Thank you for calling within the ancestors. You know, every time I am going out into the sector every morning, I at all times name on the reminiscence of my grandma’s grandma’s grandma, whose title is Suzie Boyd. She is likely one of the 12.5 million African individuals who had been kidnapped from the shores of West Africa, compelled onto slave ships, and compelled to do the agricultural labor — unpaid — that constructed the multi-trillion greenback wealth that’s foundational to this nation. And she had that audacious braveness and foresight to assemble up her millet, her okra, her cowpea, her black rice, and braid it into her hair as insurance coverage, and within the perception that descendants would exist to inherit that seed.

So the best way that informs my work on the day-to-day is I take into consideration, you understand, if my ancestors had the fortitude within the face of actually unimaginable horror — watching their infants and cousins get snatched up and never understanding the place they’d be subsequent — if that they had that braveness to avoid wasting seed for these descendants they hadn’t met but, then who am I to surrender alone descendants, even in these actually attempting instances? And so each bodily and metaphorically, I take that seed that my ancestors have handed down, put it within the floor, and put it aside for the subsequent era. And these seeds are within the type of okra and cowpea in addition to within the type of the farmer coaching that we do, the organizing that we do for extra simply insurance policies.

Racism within the US Food System

farm workers harvesting crop

Ocean Robbins: Thank you. You know, the legacy of farming as practiced within the industrialized world is interwoven with racism and injustice and exploitation of the land, of animals, and, in fact, of human beings. As you understand, the first driver of slavery was agricultural.

And right this moment, the remedy of farmworkers is fairly deplorable within the United States. Life expectancy for farmworkers within the state of California, the place I stay, by one estimate, is 49 years. Rates of most cancers are off the charts due to all of the pesticide publicity within the fields.

And but I’m wondering if the act of rising meals will be one thing we reclaim. It doesn’t must be rooted in exploitation and domination and hurt and injurious motion. It can grow to be one thing stunning. And that’s what I see you doing.

Leah Penniman: Oh, thanks for saying that. As you talked about, labor — it’s 85% Latinx and Hispanic folks rising the meals who usually are not protected by the identical labor legal guidelines as different Americans. While being a farm supervisor is among the many whitest professions.

Redistributing Resources

Leah Penniman: And then, as you talked about, in fact, meals apartheid. Who will get to eat the meals?

Ocean Robbins: Right.

Leah Penniman: You know, if you happen to’re white on this nation, you’re 4 instances extra more likely to have a wholesome grocery store in your neighborhood. And that’s why we work so exhausting on that. Both on the tangible grassroots degree the place we’re actually rising meals and delivering it at low and no price to the doorsteps of individuals beneath meals apartheid, rising group gardens in city areas. But additionally on the coverage degree.

And so, we now have a land belief that returns land to indigenous folks and to different dispossessed farmers. We have a regional fund that accepts cash after which distributes no-curiosity loans and grants to new and starting farmers. And so, these are among the form of — the macro ways in which we’re trying to redistribute among the assets stolen by way of generations of slavery, sharecropping, and different types of land-primarily based oppression.

Food Deserts vs. Food Apartheid

empty grocery cart in grocery aisle

Ocean Robbins: Thank you for that a lot. There’s quite a bit right here we might go into. (Like) how it’s that we went from 14% of the farmers in America being African-American to 2% within the final century. The undeniable fact that the USDA lately settled an enormous lawsuit for preferential mortgage remedy, mainly discrimination in opposition to African-American farmers, which made it tougher for them to maintain their farms during the last century.

And, in fact, we even have the accessibility points. We have what some name meals deserts. I don’t know if you happen to use that time period. But there’s no denying the truth that 23.5 million folks within the US stay in low-earnings neighborhoods positioned greater than a mile from a grocery store. Mostly, we’re speaking about city settings right here. So being greater than a mile from a grocery store is important and odd, given the inhabitants density. The truth is that black communities are half as more likely to have entry to massive supermarkets as white communities of comparable inhabitants density. And they’re extra more likely to be depending on liquor shops, 7-Eleven’s, and comfort shops that refill on junk meals that’s then inflicting coronary heart illness, and kind 2 diabetes, and weight problems, and so many different well being illnesses.

So I’m curious, whenever you take a look at this, initially, what are the challenges that we’re up in opposition to? And second of all, what can we do?

Why “Food Desert” Isn’t the Preferred Term

Leah Penniman: Absolutely. And we don’t use the time period “food desert” though it’s helpful to grasp the time period as a result of it’s how the federal government describes a zipper code that’s each low-earnings and is between one and ten miles from a grocery store, relying on the inhabitants density. The problem with the time period “desert” is that it implies a pure phenomenon. It implies a wonderful ecosystem that arose by way of a pure course of. When in actual fact, there’s nothing pure in any respect about sure folks relegated to meals opulence and others to meals shortage, typically on the traces of race. That’s actually apartheid.

And there’s, in fact, an entire historical past of how that got here to be. Housing discrimination, by way of redlining, divestment in communities, city renewal, gentrification, all of these techniques at play that make your zip code one of many primary determiners of your life expectancy, once more, typically on race traces.

Housing discrimination, by way of redlining, divestment in communities, city renewal, gentrification, all of these techniques at play that make your zip code one of many primary determiners of your life expectancy, once more, typically on race traces.
– Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm

So, what will be accomplished about it’s systemic, and it’s not a fast repair. We want to handle the truth that housing discrimination has really elevated on this nation for the reason that passing of truthful housing legal guidelines within the 1970s. Actors go in with the identical credit score rating and resumes, however relying in the event that they’re black or white, they’re being proven properties or not. And then that determines the tax base, and that determines how a lot funding comes into communities or not.

Community Models

women working in community garden

But I feel additionally there are actually stunning fashions to have a look at. For instance, in Detroit, out of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, they not solely fashioned a seven-acre city farm, however they fashioned a co-op — a grocery retailer that’s owned and run by the residents within the communities impacted by meals apartheid.

And so, how can we as a society, study to really belief the management of the folks most impacted by these harms and put money into the institutional infrastructure for us to steer and clear up our personal issues? You know, that co-op ought to have the Kellogg grants, the Ford Foundation grants. You know, it ought to have all of the help that it must get off the bottom. And proper now, it’s utilizing GoFundMe with a purpose to set up primary renovations that it wants. And that’s ridiculous as a result of if a group is coming collectively to unravel these actually entrenched racial points, systemic points, then we should be 100% behind it. And so, all the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Detroit Co-Op, (and different good organizations doing good work to deliver therapeutic the place it’s wanted) want funding.

Culturally Appropriate School Lunches

Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. What about college meal applications? More than 30 million children depend upon them for some a part of their meals survival. They’re not precisely recognized for providing the healthiest choices. They’re beneath-resourced, dramatically. They’re typically depending on commodity crops which can be given, primarily surplus by the USDA for little to no-cost with a purpose to meet the caloric wants, however not essentially the dietary wants of the scholars of their care.

But some folks fear that if faculties do present more healthy choices, the scholars might not really need them. Because if they only put a bunch of kale on the market, the scholars could go for the french fries and never eat the kale. So how can we deal with creating the training, the demand, and the curiosity? Is it about making extra culturally acceptable, recognizable meals? Is it about college meals service applications getting higher at preparation? Is it about training within the school rooms? How can we cross that bridge?

Leah Penniman: That’s a very good query. So sure, it’s about preparation of that meals being prime quality. It’s about absolutely funding this system. I imply, with a greenback or two per child, per lunch, and these entrenched contracts with Aramark and Sodexo, there’s no approach that you just’re really going to get good greens into the kitchen. So we’d like to have the ability to actually divorce our metropolis contracts from these massive company aggregators. And the Health, Environment, Ag, and Labor Food Alliance (the HEAL Food Alliance) is engaged on an actual meals and actual meals marketing campaign round this to get cities to interrupt up with, to essentially divorce from these massive corporations and supply domestically.

Getting Kids Interested and Involved in Food

little girl helping mom in garden

Leah Penniman: And then, yeah, having younger folks really concerned in meals preparation, when it comes to bringing in recipes, getting within the kitchen…

You know, we now have 1000’s of younger folks come by way of Soul Fire Farm yearly. And all of them eat the meals as a result of they grew it; they cooked it; they participated. So the concept someway black and brown of us should be educated to eat proper can be a smokescreen. It’s not the difficulty. It’s about resourcing actually good meals for our younger folks.

Ocean Robbins: Studies present us that rising meals and getting ready meals is one of the best ways to incite urge for food for that meals.

We have youngsters. I do know you do too. And after they’re concerned in getting ready a meal or planting something within the backyard or harvesting it, they’re so more likely to eat it. And there’s a sure pleasure that comes from that feeling of connection to what we’re consuming. And it strikes me that a part of what you’re doing helps folks to reclaim their relationship to meals itself.

Reclaiming Heritage Foodways

Leah Penniman: Absolutely. And there’s some actually highly effective work on the market. For instance, the Heritage Foodways group does some work creating meals pyramids which can be primarily based on indigenous and ancestral foodways. And there are great authors on the market like Mike Twitty and Bryant Terry, who’re additionally uplifting our ancestral foodways. Because there could be a delusion on the market that white folks eat that “healthy food.” And that our meals as black persons are all fried and unhealthy. But it’s really not the case. The foundation of a West African conventional weight-reduction plan is legumes, tubers, inexperienced greens, fish, and a variety of spices.

And so, discovering methods to connect with that and actually attain again past the time when our diets had been very colonized by each firms and likewise slave masters, to be frank. And to reclaim these heritage foodways is tremendous essential.

And children are so enthusiastic about that. They are so excited to cook dinner with these meals. And if you happen to spice it correctly, it tastes good. It’s simply that some folks don’t know use spice, so…

Human Nature

closeup of tree root system above ground

Ocean Robbins: You know, whenever you simply named the normal staples of the West African weight-reduction plan, it struck a chord in me. I’m excited about how therapeutic it’s, how essential it’s to reshape our identification as human beings. The fact is that all of us have roots in a way of life and a approach of feeding ourselves, that’s aligned with our effectively-being and the effectively-being of the planet. And nonetheless far estranged we could also be, nonetheless far again into our ancestors we might must look to search out these roots, I feel that we now have, inside our DNA, one thing of the knowledge of all the things all of our ancestors have ever skilled. And that lives in us. And it form of will get to this core nature of what does it imply to be a human being.

Because, I’ve received to confess, generally I take a look at human beings — and as a white man, possibly this can be a explicit perspective I’ve — and I really feel ashamed of what we do. I really feel ashamed of how we deal with animals. I really feel ashamed of how we deal with one another. I really feel ashamed of how we deal with the Earth. And I really feel ashamed of how we produce meals and have turned it right into a commodity that’s exploitative and damaging and extractive. And on the identical time, I consider that we’re additionally able to one thing else. And it strikes me that there’s a knowledge within the ancestors, as I hear you converse of it, that we will draw upon to return ourselves into better alignment with who we actually are.

The Importance of Cultural Heritage

Leah Penniman: I respect you saying that. The Table Underground is a very enjoyable meals justice podcast, and there’s an episode the place Owen Taylor of True Love Seeds talks precisely about that. He talks about how his Italian ancestors had to surrender their language, their culinary traditions, their faith, dialect, and actually assimilate. And within the course of, depart behind this knowledge.

And it made me suppose how essential it’s for European heritage of us, for all of us. Talk to your grandparents. Go again. You know, learn, pray, dream. And actually strive to connect with what it was earlier than this challenge of domination took over the creativeness of your folks. Because all of us have, really, indigenous roots if you happen to return far sufficient. I’m speaking about pre-conquest Europe, pre-conquest Africa, pre-conquest Asia. And how can we perceive what it’s to recollect the supply of that knowledge and attempt to begin implementing that in our lives? So I actually respect you saying that.

Drawing Inspiration from Nature

low angle view of pine tree tops

Ocean Robbins: Thank you. Leah, what have you ever realized from farming, from soil, from the rhythms of nature? And how has it knowledgeable the way you relate to the issues going through humanity?

Leah Penniman: That’s an enormous query. I’d say there may be nothing of worth that I haven’t realized from nature. One lesson is that I’m at all times watching nature and attempting to emulate biomimicry on the religious aircraft.

Recently, Soul Fire Farm has gotten a variety of strain to develop greater, franchise, or create some unusual empire of meals justice, which is basically bizarre. But I take a look at the forest. And if there’s a pine tree on the sting of the forest that’s getting a variety of daylight, she doesn’t really develop six instances taller than all the opposite timber. She takes these further sugars and minerals and dumps them into an online of mycelium fungal hyphae to share with the opposite pine timber and non-pine timber all all through the forest in order that they’re all fortified. And they will have their mast yr collectively. And so, if one is weak, the others maintain her up.

And so, I take into consideration acceptable progress of organizations, of actions, as actually being this trans-native, dispersed, mutuality net of interdependence. And not a lot replicating a mannequin of hierarchy and domination. And that’s one thing that our mannequin of progress as a corporation and a motion is basically modeled after — the best way the forest shares its assets. We wish to be a superorganism just like the forest.

How Growing Food Can Change You

Ocean Robbins: Beautiful. If somebody doesn’t develop a ton of meals or grow to be a real farmer, do you suppose that rising one thing, rising something, planting any seed, nonetheless modifications their life indirectly?

Leah Penniman: Absolutely. And even if you happen to can’t plant a seed, like make pals with a tree. I’m an enormous fan of literal tree-hugging. You know, your exhale turns into the tree’s inhale.

But yeah, you possibly can develop sprouts in your kitchen counter. You can develop just a little salad backyard with turnip greens and lettuce and scallions proper in your window sill. You might even develop a pepper in a pot in your balcony. And so, I actually am an enormous proponent of beginning small with no matter house you may have. And that relationship of watching your plant day by day, nurturing it, and inspiring it, I feel, awakens part of us that has been asleep and that all of us should be in contact with. So I encourage anybody and everybody to develop one thing if you happen to can.

Heavy Metals in Urban Soil

urban garden surrounded by buildings
iStock.com/Eric Broder Van Dyke

Ocean Robbins: One of the locations lots of people are rising meals is in group gardens and college gardens. And but, typically we discover that in city communities, the soil is contaminated with lead and different heavy metals. Is there something we will do about that in order that it’s fit for human consumption that meals?

Leah Penniman: Absolutely. And that is very private to me as a result of once we had been dwelling in Worcester, Massachusetts, and had our first baby, Nashima, she was lead-poisoned from a group backyard. And we didn’t discover out till her one-yr checkup. And, in fact, we did all of the issues a father or mother would do to assist their baby. But as activists, we additionally began to consider what concerning the million different youngsters on this metropolis. And we went round testing soils and doing remediation. We began a youth co-op referred to as Toxic Soil Busters that’s nonetheless doing remediation.

What to Do About Contaminated Soil

Leah Penniman: So all that to say, there are a number of choices. Probably the bottom hanging fruit, the best factor to do, if you happen to’re both not sure about your soils or you may have soils which can be contaminated with lead is to construct a raised mattress. You can simply use some pine, which is able to final a pair years. If you may have entry to hemlock, it’ll final 4 or 5 years. Build a raised mattress. Fill it with clear compost or topsoil or a mixture with a weed barrier on the backside. And develop proper into that. And simply make it possible for the pathways are lined with wooden chips.

If you’re bold and prepared to perform a little little bit of learning, you possibly can really bioremediate utilizing vegetation like geranium, sunflower, and mustard. It could be a one to a few-yr course of to get these vegetation to really clear the soil. And it requires cordoning off the realm to maintain it protected when you’re doing the remediation — and actually some coaching. But that’s one thing that we did in sure areas and had been capable of get lead ranges down from round 2,000 to beneath 400, which is taken into account protected sufficient to develop in.

Ocean Robbins: Do the vegetation simply take within the lead, after which it’s a must to contemplate them poisonous? Or do they really rework it indirectly?

Leah Penniman: They take within the lead. Lead and arsenic are parts, and so they really can’t be damaged down by way of a standard chemical course of, solely by way of an atomic course of. And vegetation, sadly, usually are not atomic. They don’t have that energy to degrade atoms. So they’re simply shifting it into the physique of the plant. The plant turns into poisonous then and must be disposed of and moved right into a protected, lined landfill, the place it’s not gonna seep out into the setting.

Hydrocarbons — natural supplies, together with, oil, and even plastics, can really be degraded by fungi, algae, and vegetation as a result of they will break down their compounds quite than parts. Again, in all probability past the scope of this podcast. But if you happen to’re a nerd like me, and you want chemistry, there’s quite a bit to study on the market.

Ways You Can Take Action Right Now

man and woman with crossed arms smiling in front of garden
iStock.com/Charday Penn

Ocean Robbins: So if a few of our viewers wish to assist contribute to wholesome, moral, and sustainable meals for all, in the event that they wish to possibly make a constructive impression, or make a contribution, or be in proper relation to marginalized communities, what are among the prime issues they will do?

Leah Penniman: Well, the excellent news, as my daughter says, is the meals system is all the things it takes to get sunshine onto your plant. It’s such a large arc. There are a number of factors of intersection and many proper solutions.

A few form of simple issues you may do proper now could be on the Soul Fire Farm web site there’s a reparations map, which comprises black, indigenous, and folks of coloration-led meals and farming initiatives all throughout the nation. You can look on that map, discover a challenge close to you, and see what it’s they want. It may be volunteer work. It may be cash, or land. Try to help your native BIPOC-led organizations.

Another factor you could find at SoulFireFarm.org is an motion information that has an entire bunch of insurance policies and payments that should be handed into legislation with a purpose to shield farmworkers, to return land to indigenous folks, to guard black farmers from dropping extra land, and so forth. And so, please do name your congressperson. Tell them that you just help particular items of laws, like those one can find within the motion information. That will be actually, actually useful. And, in fact, donate to black and brown-led organizations. All the lists are all around the web proper now. But we now have our record as effectively at Soul Fire Farm of orgs that want help. So that’s how one can pitch in.

Soul Fire Farm’s Capital Campaign

Ocean Robbins: You even have a capital marketing campaign, and will you inform us just a little bit about that and the way folks may have the ability to contribute in the event that they wish to step ahead in a daring method to carry your work ahead into the long run?

Leah Penniman: Oh, thanks for bringing that up. I used to be going to overlook about it. But, so, Soul Fire Farm, regardless of its nationwide attain, even worldwide some would say, operates out of the lounge of a single-household house and has 1000’s of individuals coming by way of for coaching applications.

So lately, the county well being division stated that is now not cute. Y’all must construct a industrial constructing so that you just’re as much as hearth code, and ADA, and well being rules, and so forth. So we’re within the technique of elevating cash and constructing these buildings in order that we will proceed to function and even increase our farmer coaching applications, which have a multi-yr ready record. And it’s very thrilling as a result of my accomplice Jonah is a grasp builder. So all the things is straw bail, timber frames, pure plaster, and renewable power. And we’re even accepting clay soil from our alumni to place into the pure plaster, so everybody’s land will likely be part of these buildings.

So go to our web site, SoulFireFarm.org, if you wish to pitch in for the capital marketing campaign and assist us proceed to develop the subsequent era of black farmers for years to return.

Ocean Robbins: Wonderful. My spouse and I are proud donors to Soul Fire Farm. I feel this work is so essential. I’m so grateful to you on your braveness, your fact-telling, and your willingness to embrace so many painful realities with such dignity and love. And the smile and the enjoyment that comes by way of in your work is so magnificent. I feel it takes a particular being to face the darkness, ache, and violence that you just do, and to proceed being a stand for the love and the enjoyment which can be attainable in all of us.

I thanks, Leah, for who you might be, for what you do, for the stand you’re taking, and actually for lighting a approach for all of us to see the best way ahead, that’s worthy of who we’re as human beings.

Leah Penniman: Thank you a lot. Love is actually the one reply to society’s issues, so thanks for affirming that. And I want you all the most effective with your endeavors.

Ocean Robbins: And you as effectively.

Tell us within the feedback:

  • Were you conscious of Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm’s work?
  • Do you may have a relationship with soil or rising your individual meals?
  • Does this interview encourage you to take any constructive actions?

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