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Today in the Mission Yearbook

New York farm committed to ending racism and injustice in food system

Soul Fire Farm provides outreach opportunities for farming and activism

April 21, 2018

Staff and volunteers spend the months between April and November growing and cultivating crops at Soul Fire Farm. (Photo courtesy of Soul Fire Farm)

That’s a guiding philosophy of Soul Fire Farm, a farm in New York state with a goal to feed people living in “food apartheid” neighborhoods, a term used to describe areas with little or no access to fresh, healthy food. The Presbyterian Hunger Program was one of the first supporters of the farm, which was started in 2011.

“We grow our food and get it to those who need it most through a weekly doorstep delivery of vegetables and eggs. It goes to people who live in neighborhoods with no access to fresh, healthy food,” said Leah Penniman, co-founder and co-director of the farm. “People pay for food on a sliding scale, depending on their income. We work with many refugee families who receive a fully subsidized food share.”

The idea, according to Penniman, was to bring diverse communities together to share farming skills as well as promote spiritual activism, health and environmental justice. Penniman says the farm cares for the soil and uses sustainable growing methods that were taught by African and indigenous ancestors.

“We provide both young people and adults with opportunities to learn how to farm, run a business and organize for a more just food system,” she said. “Over a thousand people come through our trainings each year. Many of them, including Latinx, Asian and other people of color, go on to farm, run community gardens or take leadership in the food system.”

Penniman says racism and injustice are “baked into” the U.S. food system. A large percentage of U.S. food is grown by Hispanic and Latinx people, but they make up only 3 percent of farm management, she said. “On the consumer side,” she added, “if you have dark skin, you are four times more likely to live in neighborhoods without a supermarket or a farmers market. You are more likely to have diabetes, obesity and other diet-related illnesses. That’s not an accident; that’s policy, a systemic lack of access to food, land, credit and training.”

Between April and November, people come to the farm for trainings and workshops, whether it is for a few days or a week-long program. In the winter, Penniman finds herself on the speakers’ circuit, appearing at universities around the country as well as conferences related to food and social justice. She’s also writing a book, Farming While Black, which will be published by Chelsea Green this fall.

Soul Fire Farm grows enough food to feed 250 individuals a week through its farm share program. (Photo courtesy of Soul Fire Farm)

“We have three full-time year-round staff as well as five seasonal part-time employees. Our network of volunteers is large,” she said. “Every month, we have a volunteer day that draws about 60 people, and there is at least a dozen more that will do things remotely like research and translation.”

The farm is a nonprofit organization with a 15-member board of directors. Food production takes place on a portion of the 70 acres they steward. The farm grows vegetables and raises poultry for eggs to feed 250 individuals a week through its farm share program.

The farm’s early support from the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) has helped build the farm’s credibility with other foundations and leverage additional support, Penniman says.

Andrew Kang Bartlett, PHP’s associate for national hunger concerns, has visited the farm and has been impressed with what he’s seen.

“We first heard about Soul Fire Farm through partners in the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance,” said Kang Bartlett. “When I visited, along with the farmer from Stony Point Center and our hunger action advocate, I was amazed at the abundance of vegetables growing on this sloping and relatively small farm. The diversity was astounding.”

“But beyond the skillful farming was the commitment to justice, building relationships and weaving a web of solidarity with communities struggling on the margins,” he added.

The spring meeting of the PHP Advisory Committee was scheduled at Stony Point Center in part to enable participants to visit Soul Fire Farm and to learn about these initiatives.

In addition to providing fresh food and educational programs, Soul Fire Farm is also committed to reparations work. Alumni of their Black Latinx Farmers Immersion created a national reparations map to help return land and resources to communities of color.

“We are committed to a large-scale policy change and getting resources back to the people from whom it was stolen,” said Penniman. “We are working with several national alliances to change the rules of the system to make them fair for everyone.”

The work and grant partnerships of the Presbyterian Hunger Program are made possible by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Rick Jones, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Soul Fire Farm

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Melanie Komp, FDN
Laurie Kraus, PMA

Let us pray:

Lord, help us to sow seeds of justice and benevolence as we seek to follow your will. Guide us as we seek to alleviate suffering in your world, through the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 92; 149
First Reading Exodus 25:1-22
Second Reading Colossians 3:1-17
Gospel Reading Matthew 4:18-25
Evening Psalms 23; 114