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Book honors African roots while providing guide to small-scale farming

By Karen Washington, Rise & Root Farm 

Farming While Black By Leah Penniman | 353 pages | 2018, Chelsea Green | $19.95 Paperback | Get your copy at the 2019 MOSES Conference!

I met Leah Penniman at a farming conference in 2010, and have watched her grow into a powerful leader, starting her own farm, holding antiracism workshops, and developing a justice and leadership program for youth, all while holding down a teacher’s job. We continue to work together, breaking down walls of oppression while seeking out opportunities and justice for our people.

For centuries our ancestors have cried from beyond the voyage of time for us to hear the truth so that their deaths were not in vain. In Farming While Black, Leah Penniman has heard them. Given the centuries of falsehoods, misconceptions, and stolen information, Leah has heard their cries for salvation!

Out from the shadows of darkness we are taken on an emancipated journey of truth, power, reclamation, and fortitude with a resounding Amen. With humility and respect, she pays homage to our ancestors as she articulates our agricultural history.

Confronting everything from the destruction of the continent’s original populace to the tyranny of colonialism, this masterpiece of Afro-indigenous sovereignty sheds light on the richness of Black culture permeating throughout agriculture. Throughout the book we are reminded that we were the pioneers (Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington), the inventors (George Washington Carver, Booker T. Whatley), the trailblazers (Fannie Lou Hamer, The Black Panther Party), and visionaries—intertwining and interconnecting our spirituality and farming.

Farming While Black teaches us the fundamental acts of growing food and growing community. While entertaining us with family adventures, Leah shares stories, cultures, chants, recipes, curricula, and much more from her life’s work as a farmer and co-founder and co-director of Soul Fire Farm.

We are reminded that as Black farmers we cannot do this work without consulting the wisdom of our sacred literature (Odu Ifa) and receiving spiritual permission from the deities of the Earth and universe (Orisa) to plant our seeds, to grow our food, to share our harvest, and to give back to the Earth.

We are also reminded of both past and present forms of trauma and oppressive behavior, from colonialism, to the present day slavery of mass incarceration, and yet, globally as a people, still we rise!

In the struggle for civil rights and human rights, Black farmers have always been there. We have endured the test of time in our resilience and resolve. Our power is in the soil, the land, the Earth. Our skin hues are a testament to our belonging.

Farming While Black encourages us to reach for greatest and settle for nothing less. Know your history. Share and tell our stories. Pay respect and honor our elders. Pass on the gift of knowledge and fortitude to our youth. Find strength in family and community, but above all love one another, love the Earth, and be true to one’s self.

Leah Penniman will present a workshop, “Farming While Black,” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at MOSES 2019.

As we move toward alternative ways of farming, living, and being, away from our oppressors, we cannot fall victim to replicating their behavior. Leah has paved the way by addressing our fears, wants, and desires.

Thank you, Leah, for giving us this gift. Farming While Black is the book we will turn to when we need to be grounded, reminded of our heritage, our greatness, our resources, our networks, and the reason why as Black people we farm.

Karen Washington farms at Rise & Root Farm in Chester, New York.



From the January | February 2019 Issue

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