Everyone deserves secure, wholesome, and reasonably priced meals for his or her households. You shouldn’t need to be wealthy, have a sure pores and skin shade, 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 come up with the money for take pleasure in a number of benefits that result in higher well being. Typically, they’ll afford higher diets. White folks and individuals who come up with the money for are likely to have entry to extra nutritious meals and details about which meals are, actually, more healthy to eat. They have higher housing and safer working situations. There’s extra inexperienced area and areas for recreation — and extra alternatives to train frequently the place they reside. They have extra entry to well being care companies and are much less uncovered to numerous sorts of air pollution.
All of this results in properly-documented well being disparities. People of shade and folks of low revenue are much more more likely to die from most cancers, undergo from melancholy, be overweight, have hypertension, and undergo 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 shade, they usually’ve taught tens of hundreds of individuals, of all backgrounds, the best way to develop wholesome meals, take lively steps to dismantle racism, and construct a more healthy world for all of us.
Here’s a frivolously 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 carry 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 shade-centered neighborhood 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 communicate 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 hundreds of thousands of individuals, one of many issues that retains developing, repeatedly, is that in an effort 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 everyone has entry to the identical farms, the identical agricultural capacities, or the identical monetary assets. And if you take a look at it statistically, there’s an enormous divide. Statistically, the darker your pores and skin shade within the United States right now, the extra doubtless you’re 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 now to speak about what we are able to do and the way we may be part of transformation, to carry extra therapeutic, love, justice, and wellness for everybody. Leah, thanks a lot for being right here.
Leah Penniman: Thank you in 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
Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. You know, your e-book, Farming While Black — which is great by the best way, everybody ought to get a duplicate — 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 simply do right now?
Leah Penniman: Thank you for calling within the ancestors. You know, each time I’m going out into the sphere every morning, I at all times name on the reminiscence of my grandma’s grandma’s grandma, whose title is Suzie Boyd. She is without doubt one of the 12.5 million African individuals who have been kidnapped from the shores of West Africa, pressured 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 collect 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 already know, if my ancestors had the fortitude within the face of actually unimaginable horror — watching their infants and cousins get snatched up and never figuring out 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 by myself 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 following technology. 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
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, after all, of human beings. As you already know, the first driver of slavery was agricultural.
And right now, the therapy of farmworkers is fairly deplorable within the United States. Life expectancy for farmworkers within the state of California, the place I reside, 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 ponder if the act of rising meals may be one thing we reclaim. It doesn’t need to be rooted in exploitation and domination and hurt and injurious motion. It can turn into 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 are usually not protected by the identical labor legal guidelines as different Americans. While being a farm supervisor is among the many whitest professions.
Leah Penniman: And then, as you talked about, after all, 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 arduous on that. Both on the tangible grassroots degree the place we’re actually rising meals and delivering it at low and no value to the doorsteps of individuals underneath meals apartheid, rising neighborhood 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 a few of the type of — the macro ways in which we’re trying to redistribute a few of the assets stolen by generations of slavery, sharecropping, and different types of land-primarily based oppression.
Food Deserts vs. Food Apartheid
Ocean Robbins: Thank you for that a lot. There’s lots right here we may 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 therapy, mainly discrimination in opposition to African-American farmers, which made it more durable for them to maintain their farms over the past century.
And, after all, 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 reside in low-revenue neighborhoods situated 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 reality is that black communities are half as more likely to have entry to giant 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 sort 2 diabetes, and weight problems, and so many different well being illnesses.
So I’m curious, if you take a look at this, to begin with, 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” although 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-revenue 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 fantastic ecosystem that arose by a pure course of. When actually, 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, after all, an entire historical past of how that got here to be. Housing discrimination, by 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 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 may be performed about it’s systemic, and it’s not a fast repair. We want to handle the truth that housing discrimination has truly elevated on this nation because the 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.
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, be taught to truly belief the management of the folks most impacted by these harms and put money into the institutional infrastructure for us to guide 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 assist that it must get off the bottom. And proper now, it’s utilizing GoFundMe in an effort to set up primary renovations that it wants. And that’s ridiculous as a result of if a neighborhood is coming collectively to unravel these actually entrenched racial points, systemic points, then we should be 100% behind it. And so, the entire Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Detroit Co-Op, (and different good organizations doing good work to carry therapeutic the place it’s wanted) want funding.
Culturally Appropriate School Lunches
Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. What about faculty meal applications? More than 30 million youngsters rely upon them for some a part of their meals survival. They’re not precisely identified for providing the healthiest choices. They’re underneath-resourced, dramatically. They’re typically depending on commodity crops which are given, basically surplus by the USDA for little to no-cost in an effort 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 could not truly 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 tackle creating the schooling, the demand, and the curiosity? Is it about making extra culturally applicable, recognizable meals? Is it about faculty meals service applications getting higher at preparation? Is it about schooling within the lecture 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 top 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 method that you simply’re truly going to get good greens into the kitchen. So we want to have the ability to actually divorce our metropolis contracts from these giant 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
Leah Penniman: And then, yeah, having younger folks truly concerned in meals preparation, by way of bringing in recipes, getting within the kitchen…
You know, we now have hundreds of younger folks come by 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 is mostly 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 making ready meals is one of the simplest ways to incite urge for food for that meals.
We have youngsters. I do know you do too. And once they’re concerned in making 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 are 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 generally is a fable on the market that white folks eat that “healthy food.” And that our meals as black individuals are all fried and unhealthy. But it’s truly not the case. The foundation of a West African conventional weight loss plan is legumes, tubers, inexperienced greens, fish, and lots of spices.
And so, discovering methods to hook up with that and actually attain again past the time when our diets have been very colonized by each firms and likewise slave masters, to be frank. And to reclaim these heritage foodways is tremendous vital.
And youngsters are so enthusiastic about that. They are so excited to prepare dinner with these meals. And if you happen to spice it correctly, it tastes good. It’s simply that some folks don’t know the best way to use spice, so…
Ocean Robbins: You know, if you simply named the normal staples of the West African weight loss plan, it struck a chord in me. I’m fascinated with how therapeutic it’s, how vital 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 method of feeding ourselves, that’s aligned with our properly-being and the properly-being of the planet. And nonetheless far estranged we could also be, nonetheless far again into our ancestors we could need to look to seek out these roots, I feel that we now have, inside our DNA, one thing of the knowledge of every thing all of our ancestors have ever skilled. And that lives in us. And it type of will get to this core nature of what does it imply to be a human being.
Because, I’ve acquired to confess, typically I take a look at human beings — and as a white man, perhaps 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 harmful and extractive. And on the similar 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 communicate of it, that we are able to draw upon to return ourselves into higher alignment with who we actually are.
The Importance of Cultural Heritage
Leah Penniman: I admire 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 vital it’s for European heritage of us, for all of us. Talk to your grandparents. Go again. You know, learn, pray, dream. And actually attempt to hook up with what it was earlier than this undertaking of domination took over the creativeness of your folks. Because all of us have, truly, 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 admire you saying that.
Drawing Inspiration from Nature
Ocean Robbins: Thank you. Leah, what have you ever discovered 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 might say there may be nothing of worth that I haven’t discovered from nature. One lesson is that I’m at all times watching nature and attempting to emulate biomimicry on the religious airplane.
Recently, Soul Fire Farm has gotten lots of stress to develop larger, franchise, or create some unusual empire of meals justice, which is absolutely 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 lots of daylight, she doesn’t truly 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’ll have their mast 12 months collectively. And so, if one is weak, the others maintain her up.
And so, I take into consideration applicable 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 company and a motion is absolutely 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 turn into a real farmer, do you suppose that rising one thing, rising something, planting any seed, nonetheless adjustments their life indirectly?
Leah Penniman: Absolutely. And even if you happen to can’t plant a seed, like make associates with a tree. I’m a giant fan of literal tree-hugging. You know, your exhale turns into the tree’s inhale.
But yeah, you’ll be able to develop sprouts in your kitchen counter. You can develop somewhat salad backyard with turnip greens and lettuce and scallions proper in your window sill. You may even develop a pepper in a pot in your balcony. And so, I actually am a giant proponent of beginning small with no matter area you might have. And that relationship of watching your plant each 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
Ocean Robbins: One of the locations lots of people are rising meals is in neighborhood gardens and faculty gardens. And but, typically we discover that in city communities, the soil is contaminated with lead and different heavy metals. Is there something we are able to do about that in order that it’s suitable for eating that meals?
Leah Penniman: Absolutely. And that is very private to me as a result of after we have been residing in Worcester, Massachusetts, and had our first baby, Nashima, she was lead-poisoned from a neighborhood backyard. And we didn’t discover out till her one-12 months checkup. And, after all, we did all of the issues a dad or mum would do to assist their baby. But as activists, we additionally began to consider what in regards to the million different youngsters on this metropolis. And we went round testing soils and doing remediation. We began a youth co-op known as Toxic Soil Busters that’s nonetheless doing remediation.
What to Do About Contaminated Soil
Leah Penniman: So all that to say, there are just a few choices. Probably the bottom hanging fruit, the best factor to do, if you happen to’re both uncertain about your soils or you might have soils which are 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 might 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 coated with wooden chips.
If you’re formidable and keen to do some little bit of finding out, you’ll be able to truly bioremediate utilizing vegetation like geranium, sunflower, and mustard. It generally is a one to a few-12 months course of to get these vegetation to truly clear the soil. And it requires cordoning off the world to maintain it secure whilst you’re doing the remediation — and actually some coaching. But that’s one thing that we did in sure areas and have been capable of get lead ranges down from round 2,000 to underneath 400, which is taken into account secure sufficient to develop in.
Ocean Robbins: Do the vegetation simply take within the lead, after which it’s important to contemplate them poisonous? Or do they really rework it indirectly?
Leah Penniman: They take within the lead. Lead and arsenic are components, they usually truly can’t be damaged down by a standard chemical course of, solely by an atomic course of. And vegetation, sadly, are usually 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 secure, lined landfill, the place it’s not gonna seep out into the surroundings.
Hydrocarbons — natural supplies, together with, oil, and even plastics, can truly be degraded by fungi, algae, and vegetation as a result of they’ll break down their compounds fairly than components. Again, most likely past the scope of this podcast. But if you happen to’re a nerd like me, and you want chemistry, there’s lots to be taught on the market.
Ways You Can Take Action Right Now
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 perhaps make a optimistic influence, or make a contribution, or be in proper relation to marginalized communities, what are a few of the high issues they’ll do?
Leah Penniman: Well, the excellent news, as my daughter says, is the meals system is every thing it takes to get sunshine onto your plant. It’s such a large arc. There are plenty of factors of intersection and many proper solutions.
A few type of straightforward issues you might do proper now’s on the Soul Fire Farm web site there’s a reparations map, which accommodates black, indigenous, and folks of shade-led meals and farming tasks all throughout the nation. You can look on that map, discover a undertaking close to you, and see what it’s they want. It may be volunteer work. It may be cash, or land. Try to assist your native BIPOC-led organizations.
Another factor you will discover at SoulFireFarm.org is an motion information that has an entire bunch of insurance policies and payments that should be handed into legislation in an effort 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 simply assist particular items of laws, like those you’ll discover within the motion information. That may be actually, actually useful. And, after all, donate to black and brown-led organizations. All the lists are all around the web proper now. But we now have our checklist as properly at Soul Fire Farm of orgs that want assist. 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 somewhat bit about that and the way folks would possibly have the ability to contribute in the event that they wish to step ahead in a daring strategy to carry your work ahead into the longer term?
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 hundreds of individuals coming by for coaching applications.
So lately, the county well being division stated that is not cute. Y’all must construct a industrial constructing so that you simply’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 are able to proceed to function and even broaden our farmer coaching applications, which have a multi-12 months ready checklist. And it’s very thrilling as a result of my companion Jonah is a grasp builder. So every thing is straw bail, timber frames, pure plaster, and renewable vitality. And we’re even accepting clay soil from our alumni to place into the pure plaster, so everybody’s land shall 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 following technology 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 vital. I’m so grateful to you in 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 in your work is so magnificent. I feel it takes a particular being to face the darkness, ache, and violence that you simply do, and to proceed being a stand for the love and the enjoyment which are potential in all of us.
I thanks, Leah, for who you’re, for what you do, for the stand you’re taking, and actually for lighting a method 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 really the one reply to society’s issues, so thanks for affirming that. And I want you all one of the best with your endeavors.
Ocean Robbins: And you as properly.
Tell us within the feedback:
- Were you conscious of Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm’s work?
- Do you might have a relationship with soil or rising your personal meals?
- Does this interview encourage you to take any optimistic actions?