“Farming While Black” by Leah Penniman
Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land
By Leah Penniman. 2018. 368 pages.
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. 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, and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture. Throughout the book Leah 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.