Leah Penniman and The Power of Food Sovereignty

“To tend the Earth is always then to tend our destiny, our freedom and our hope.”
--- Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks ---

If you wish to better understand the relationship between justice for Mother Earth and human freedom to nourish ourselves, Leah Penniman is one of the best teachers. She wrote the book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land; this empowering reference to reach food and land justice, inclusion, and reparations includes care for the soil and climate. I found more about the author from the Soul Fire Farm website: 

Image is of the book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman“Leah Penniman (li/she/ya/elle) is a Black Kreyol farmer/peyizan, mother, soil nerd, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2010 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land. As Co-Director and Farm Manager, Leah is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs - including farmer training for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for communities living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Leah has been farming since 1996, holds an MA in Science Education and a BA in Environmental Science and International Development from Clark University, and is a Manye (Queen Mother) in Vodun. Leah trained at Many Hands Organic Farm, Farm School MA, and internationally with farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico. She also served as a high school biology and environmental science teacher for 17 years. The work of Leah and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Pritzker Environmental Genius Award, Grist 50, and James Beard Leadership Award, among others.”

And I’m excited to share news of an event to learn from this charismatic steward! On February 17 Penniman will give a presentation, followed by a conversation with Douglas County Grower and Food Policy Activist Cody Haynes. Find out more below about this event, co-hosted by The Commons at KU and more community-minded groups.

All We Can Save: The Power of Food Sovereignty, with Leah Penniman, opens a new window

12:00-1:00pm on Thursday, February 17, 2022 Online | Link to Zoom Registration, opens a new window.

Climate change is often discussed in scientific terms, but the work of responding to the urgency of climate change requires many voices. The realms of social, creative, activist, spiritual, food production, and many others, play critical roles in the larger conversation. As well, we know that climate change disproportionately affects certain populations. We present this series to showcase the works of leaders included in All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson. This series brings thought leaders from diverse professions and callings into conversation with KU students and the community. Anyone needing special accommodations may contact The Commons at thecommons@ku.edu.

If you are on Twitter and wish to share this event, here is the link to tweet about Leah Penniman Speaking on the Power of Food Sovereignty, opens a new window.

Image is of Leah Penniman, her hair in braids elegantly wrapped on top of her head; she is wearing a red dress decorated with gold embellishments. She is standing outside and holding a long-handled farm tool over her shoulders
Leah Penniman, photo by Jamel Mosely

Image is of the book All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate CrisisAll We Can Save is an anthology of inspiring essays and poetry to respond to our climate challenges; the whole collection feels like an invitation to thoughtful and provocative conversations. Leah Penniman’s powerful essay, “Black Gold”, with many vivid examples of Black people making positive connections to life-giving soil is centered within the book. A companion website provides even deeper opportunities, www.allwecansave.earth, opens a new window.

A couple notes of related local interest:

  • The Kaw Valley Seed Fair is Saturday, February 12th from 9:00am-2:00pm at Douglas County Fairgrounds, sponsored by Cottin's Hardware, Seeds From Italy, and Native Lands, LLC. Meet people devoted to sustainability and biodiversity in our region. If you have seeds to share, be sure to bring them and join this fun exchange! More Seed Fair information is on Facebook, opens a new window.
  • The Climate Action Plan is open for your feedback; the Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability office is working on the draft and will present the plan to the Lawrence City Commission this spring. Everyone in our community is also invited to participate as a “Climate Ambassador”; link to see the details, opens a new window.

Circling back to the sovereignty work of Soul Fire Farm, find resources you may use to move equity forward at Soul Fire Farm's Take Action page, opens a new window.

And watch for Leah Penniman’s forthcoming book: Black Earth Wisdom; a collection of interviews with Black environmentalists such as Dr. J. Drew Lanham, Angelou Ezeilo, and Dr. Lauret Savoy and an homage to ecological trailblazers like Dr. George Washington Carver, Audrey Peterman, and Alice Walker.

I hope this post has provided you with new ways to nurture Mother Earth that also cultivate human justice. Cheers to Leah Penniman, Cody Haynes, The Commons at KU, and more community-minded groups!


Photo of Leah Penniman courtesy of Jamel Mosely / mel eMedia, opens a new window

Cover image credit: Emily Ryan, Director at The Commons at KU, opens a new window

- Shirley Braunlich is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

All We Can Save

Farming While Black