Leah Penniman

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Leah Penniman is the Co-Founder, Co-Director and Program Manager of Soul Fire Farm, in Grafton, New York.[1] She is a farmer, educator, author, and food sovereignty activist with over 20 years of experience.[2] Penniman was raised in Massachusetts and began farming as a teenager when she worked with The Food Project in Boston. Penniman holds an MA in Science Education and BA in Environmental Science and International Development from Clark University. She has been farming since 1996 and teaching since 2002. She has worked at the Food Project, Farm School, Many Hands Organic Farm, Youth Grow and with farmers internationally in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 with the mission of ending racism and injustice in the food system and reclaiming the inherent right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system as Black and Brown people. [3] The work of Penniman and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Presidential Award for Science Teaching, NYS Health Emerging Innovator Awards, and Andrew Goodman Foundation, among others.[4] Leah Penniman has also worked as a science teacher at University Park Campus School, Tech Valley High School, and Darrow School and was founding director of the Harriet Tubman Democratic High School. Penniman lives on the farm with her partner, Jonah Vitale-Wolff and their two children, Neshima and Emet Vitale-Penniman.[5]

Soul Fire Farm[edit]

The 72 acre farm is located in Grafton, NY. Food is intensively cultivated using exclusively organic and ancestral techniques that increase topsoil depth, sequester carbon, and increase soil biodiversity. The buildings on the farm are hand-constructed, using local wood, adobe, straw bales, solar heat, and reclaimed materials. The goals of the farm are to end racism and injustice in the food system. The team of workers and activists there also bring diverse communities together on the land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, natural building, spiritual activism, health and environmental justice through their programs. [6] [7]


Soul Fire Farm Share (Community Supported Agriculture) The program delivers freshly grown produce each week, to the doorsteps of over 80 farm share members in Troy and Albany New York, based on the spirit of ujaama, or cooperative economics. Payment can be made according to an income based sliding-scale, EBT payments are accepted, and no one is turned away for lack of income. This program also provides #solidarityshares,[8] for immigrants, refugees, and those impacted by state violence. ”We are committed to working with the most marginalized issues. It's a different economic model. It's about relationships. It's not just a model of selling," says Penniman. [9]

Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion[edit]

This program teaches novice and intermediate growers the basic skills of regenerative farming and has trained over 350 farmers since 2011. The training covers skills like planting, transplanting, harvesting, compost, pest management, processing chickens, and use of medicinal herbs. The program supplies the tools for additional comprehensive commercial farm training. Participants learn in a culturally relevant and supportive environment that helps them connect to the land and understand "trauma rooted in oppression on land.”[10]

Uprooting Racism Immersion[edit]

This workshop provides farming and food justice leaders with theory and action. Participants examine the history of food injustice and then devise strategies to end the systemic racism in the food system.[11]

Youth Program[edit]

The goal of this program is to reconnect youth to their innate belonging to the land and to restore each person's rightful place of empowerment in the food system. It exposes young people to harvesting, cooking and food justice knowledge through one day workshops, including inter-generational groups. From 2013-2015, the farm’s restorative justice program allowed teens to earn money to pay off court-ordered restitution and avoid incarceration. Soul Fire Farm’s youth program began in 2011.[12] [13]

Activist Retreats[edit]

“From prisoner justice to climate justice, our struggles for a world of dignity, empowerment, and sustainability are intertwined. Those of us on the front lines of social and environmental change understand the need to periodically step out of our everyday context to rejuvenate, strategize, and connect.” Soul Fire Farm makes their space available to activists working for social and environmental change so that they might "rejuvenate, strategize, and connect.”[14]

Community Farm Days

Each Month, from April to October, Soul Fire Farm hosts community farm days, where volunteers and staff work the land and learn together, followed by a potluck and conversation. The farm honors the Haitian cultural practice of Konbit, cooperative work and mutual aid. [15]

Partner Projects[edit]

Soul Fire Farm is a partner with the Victory Bus Project which was created to assist the family members of incarcerated people with the cost of visiting loved ones because state funding for busing families was eliminated. Instead of purchasing an actual ticket for the bus fare to the prison for a visit, the family can instead pay for a box of Soul Fire Farm produce with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. They receive the benefit of visiting loved ones and receiving fresh produce. [16] Soul Fire Farm also partners with The Northeast Farmers of Color Network on the Reparations Map[17] for Black-Indigenous Farmers. The aim is to claim sovereignty of the food system that was built on the stolen land and stolen labor of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and people of color and calls for reparations of land and resources. [18]


2018: Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Decolonizing Land, Food, and Agriculture. Chelsea Green Publishing (release date: November 8, 2018) 2018: Sowing the Seeds of Food Justice: A Guide for Farmers Who Want to Supply Low Income Communities While Maintaining Financial Sustainability, SARE Research Manual 2017: Land Justice, published by Food First. Contributing author. 2017: Perma/Culture, published by Routledge. Contributing author. 2017: Cherry Bombe Cookbook, published by Clarkson Potter, Contributing author. 2017: 4 Not-So-Easy Ways to Dismantle Racism in the Food System. YES! Magazine 2016: At Soul Fire Farm #blacklivesmatter and #black land matters, Fortune Magazine 2016: After a Century of Decline, Black Farmers on the Rise YES!Magazine 2015: USDA Puts $34.3 million into local food, but is it enough?YES! Magazine 2015: Four Ways Mexico’s Indigenous Farmers are Practicing the Agriculture of the Future. YES! Magazine 2015: Living and Learning in Oaxaca, New York Organic News, Volume 33, No 1, Spring 2015: Radical Farmers Use Fresh Food to Fight Racial Injustice.YES! Magazine (Republished in Solutions Journal) 2014: Black and Latino Farmers Immersion. YES! Magazine (Republished 2015 in Urban Food Stories)


  1. ^ Henry, Sarah. "This Farmer Wants to Help Youth of Color Reconnect With the Land". Civil Eats. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  2. ^ Meiers, Andrea (2017). "Growing a Relationship With the Land". Country Woman Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  3. ^ Goppart, Judy. "issue_id":256699,"page":6} "Leah Penniman: Growing A New Generation of Farmers". HerLifemagazine.com. HERLIFE. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  4. ^ Popovitch, Trish. "10 Female Urban Farmers Setting the Tone for Sustainable Cities". Seedstock. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  5. ^ Goppert, Judy. "issue_id":256699,"page":24} "Leah Penniman: Growing a New Generation of Farmers". HerLifeMagazine.com. Her Life Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  6. ^ Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. ""This Is How We Do It: Learning From Successful Farm Models". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  7. ^ SoulFireFarm.org http://www.soulfirefarm.org. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "#solidarityshares".
  9. ^ Fox, Deanna. "CSA's in the Capital Region: How they Work". Times Union Albany. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  10. ^ Willoughby, Jean. "A Digital Map Leads to Reparations for Black and Indigenous Farmers". YesMagazine.Org. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  11. ^ Contemporary Black Canvas http://www.contemporaryblackcanvas.com/ep-13-soul-fire-farm-leah-penniman/. Retrieved 13 April 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Meadows-Fernandez, Rochaun. "How Do We End "Food Apartheid" in America? With Farms Like This One". Alternate.Org. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  13. ^ "Leah Penniman, Jonah Vitale-Wolff, Jas Wade, Keidra Gordon, Larisa Jacobson, Amani Olugbala, and Gabriela Alvarez Soul Fire Farm, Grafton". Hudson Valley Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Leah Penniman, Jonah Vitale-Wolff, Jas Wade, Keidra Gordon, Larisa Jacobson, Amani Olugbala, and Gabriela Alvarez Soul Fire Farm, Grafton". Hudson Valley Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  15. ^ "The Farm Hub's Fourth Season".
  16. ^ Fox, Deanna. "Soul Fire Farm grows social justice, too Soul Fire Farm in Grafton does not deny its products based on income". timesunion.com. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Northeast Farmers of Color Network on the Reparations Map".
  18. ^ "A Digital Map Leads to Reparations for Black and Indigenous Farmers The map's creators envision equitable distribution of land and resources through "people-to-people" reparations". yes magazine.org. Retrieved 13 April 2018.