To call Leah Penniman’s work life a career wouldn’t do it justice. The word “mission” is more appropriate; she has a mission to fundamentally change our food systems so that they are more sustainable, healthy, and equitable. Specifically, she is educating and empowering the next generation of activist-farmers to own and farm land, and combating what she describes as “food apartheid” — situations where poor people, often people of color, have little means of accessing nutritious and affordable foods in their geographic area. To do so she fills the roles of educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist at Soul Fire Farms in Grafton (15 miles east of Troy) — an organization she co-founded, and the centerpiece of her efforts.
Penniman shares that in order to take on work full-time that fully embodied her values and mission, she had to “overcome a lot of fear. No one gave me the advice that I could be a social entrepreneur when I was starting out.”
What is your advice to the next generation?
“Find the intersection of what the world needs and what makes you come alive.”
In looking toward the future, Penniman envisions a strengthening network of activists pushing for a similar mission. She compares this network to a mycelium — the subterranean fungal network that all forest plant life communicates and shares nutrients through — and explains that while currently Soul Fire is pouring a lot of energy and resources into the network, as others become educated, empowered and more active, their (and her) role may shift. In short, she explains, “It’s a ‘we’ thing.”
Her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, hit shelves in October 2018.