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Navigating Our Terrain

Aug 6, 2020

The ancestral connection between Black communities and farming is integral to our health and wellbeing, but unfortunately, it’s been systematically oppressed over the last centuries. I’m joined by Lean Penniman, Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm, to talk about li mission as a soil steward on an urban farm for Black and Brown people.


About Leah Penniman

Leah Penniman (Li*/Ya/She/He) is the Co-Director and Manager of Soul Fire Farm. Li has over 20 years of experience as a soil steward and food sovereignty activist. Soul Fire Farm started in 2010 with Leah’s mission to reclaim the inherent right to belong to the earth and have agency in the food system of Black and Brown people. 

Leah’s areas of leadership at Soul Fire include farmer training, international solidarity, perennials, writing, speaking, “making it rain,” and getting deep into the blood, sweat, and soil of the earth. Li is the author of Farming While Black, an actual love song for the earth and her peoples.


About Farming While Black

We get right into it on this episode of Navigating our Terrain with my question to Leah: What does being black have to do with farming? Li explains the ancestral connection between Black and Brown people and the earth. Slave traders who brought Black people to America broke this connection.

Leah talks about the history of Black farming and how when slave traders went to Africa, they targeted master farmers to bring their knowledge to America. And now, Black communities are systematically cut off from fresh and organic foods, leading to a higher prevalence of ill health.

Leah explains how over the years, we’ve lost our connection to the earth. This includes a lack of gratitude for using the land. Li says this lack of gratitude has had a negative impact on the overall health of our nation.

There is absolutely a connection between farming, nature, and spirituality. Leah shares some of li experiences in Ghana where she learned from Queen Mothers how to truly connect with the land. This includes asking permission from the land: When’s the last time you thanked your soil for letting you plant there or your seeds for nourishing your body?

Asking permission from the earth to make changes on her shows honor and respect to the planet that’s been nurturing us for millennia. We need to allow the earth to use her voice - and even more than that, we need to listen to her.

Finally, Leah gives us some practical ways in which we can make a difference in our communities. Whether we reconnect to mother earth with our own farming initiatives to supporting Black farming programs, there is something you can do right away to grow your community.

How will you give back to your community today? In what ways will you seek your spiritual connection with the earth? I’d love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments on the episode page.


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In This Episode:

  • What being black has to do with farming
  • How gardening can help black youths stay out of incarceration
  • What a lack of gratitude for the land has done to the overall health of the nation
  • How farming and spirituality go hand and hand
  • How to ask permission from the land to make changes on it
  • Why we need to allow the earth to use her voice
  • How you can make a difference in your community



“Of course, we know what we need to be eating, we have a desire for those foods, we know how to prepare those foods. In our community, we have a long tradition of doing that. But you simply can’t get those foods in many black neighborhoods. They’re not available, not affordable, or are inedible. It’s all of society’s responsibility to look at why we have these disparities and how we correct and create better access to healthier food.” (10:22)

“That’s why we’re spiritually, physically, and emotionally sick. The earth is a sibling and we are treating the earth as a commodity.”  (25:23)

“I just love the ways that we get to inspire and support each other and keep pushing the envelope towards this world that we all, hopefully, want to see.” (40:19)



Find the complete episode post here

Find out how you can support Soul Fire Farm and the black community

Buy Farming While Black by Leah Penniman

Find Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm Online

Follow Soul Fire Farm on Instagram | YouTube | Twitter | Facebook

Follow Farming While Black on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook


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Dr. Maya Shetreat

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Podcast production support from the team at Counterweight Creative